In These Times In These Times features award-winning investigative reporting about corporate malfeasance and government wrongdoing. en-us Fri, 16 Apr 2021 14:59:06 -0500 Fri, 16 Apr 2021 14:59:06 -0500 Joe Biden's Afghanistan Announcement Is Not What It Appears - The United States may be withdrawing its troops in September, but that doesn't mean it's ending its decades-long military engagement. Fri, 16 Apr 2021 09:12:00 -0500 When I met a seven-year-old girl named Guljumma at a refugee camp in Kabul a dozen years ago, she told me that bombs fell early one morning while she slept at home in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Valley. With a soft, matter-of-fact voice, Guljumma described what happened. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm.

Troops on the ground didn't kill Guljumma's relatives and leave her to live with only one arm. The U.S. air war did.

There's no good reason to assume the air war in Afghanistan will be over when—according to President Biden's announcement on Wednesday—all U.S. forces will be withdrawn from that country.

What Biden didn't say was as significant as what he did say. He declared that "U.S. troops, as well as forces deployed by our NATO allies and operational partners, will be out of Afghanistan" before Sept. 11. And "we will not stay involved in Afghanistan militarily."

But President Biden did not say that the United States will stop bombing Afghanistan. What's more, he pledged that "we will keep providing assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces," a declaration that actually indicates a tacit intention to "stay involved in Afghanistan militarily."

And, while the big-type headlines and prominent themes of media coverage are filled with flat-out statements that the U.S. war in Afghanistan will end come September, the fine print of coverage says otherwise.

The banner headline across the top of the New York Times homepage during much of Wednesday proclaimed: "Withdrawal of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Will End Longest American War." But, buried in the thirty-second paragraph of a story headed "Biden to Withdraw All Combat Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11," the Times reported: "Instead of declared troops in Afghanistan, the United States will most likely rely on a shadowy combination of clandestine Special Operations forces, Pentagon contractors and covert intelligence operatives to find and attack the most dangerous Qaeda or Islamic State threats, current and former American officials said."

Matthew Hoh, a Marine combat veteran who in 2009 became the highest-ranking U.S. official to resign from the State Department in protest of the Afghanistan war, told my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy on Wednesday: "Regardless of whether the 3,500 acknowledged U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, the U.S. military will still be present in the form of thousands of special operations and CIA personnel in and around Afghanistan, through dozens of squadrons of manned attack aircraft and drones stationed on land bases and on aircraft carriers in the region, and by hundreds of cruise missiles on ships and submarines."

We scarcely hear about it, but the U.S. air war on Afghanistan has been a major part of Pentagon operations there. And for more than a year, the U.S. government hasn't even gone through the motions of disclosing how much of that bombing has occurred.

"We don't know, because our government doesn't want us to," diligent researchers Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies wrote last month. "From January 2004 until February 2020, the U.S. military kept track of how many bombs and missiles it dropped on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and published those figures in regular, monthly Airpower Summaries, which were readily available to journalists and the public. But in March 2020, the Trump administration abruptly stopped publishing U.S. Airpower Summaries, and the Biden administration has so far not published any either."

The U.S. war in Afghanistan won't end just because President Biden and U.S. news media tell us so. As Guljumma and countless other Afghan people have experienced, troops on the ground aren't the only measure of horrific warfare.

No matter what the White House and the headlines say, U.S. taxpayers won't stop subsidizing the killing in Afghanistan until there is an end to the bombing and "special operations" that remain shrouded in secrecy.

This piece originally appeared on Common Dreams.

Norman Solomon
The Struggle for Unhoused Pregnant Women to Find Shelter - Bad rules keep pregnant women from accessing family shelters. Fri, 16 Apr 2021 08:54:00 -0500 WASHINGTON, D.C.—When Covid-19 shut down city operations in March 2020, people were told to stay at home. For some people without their own homes to shelter in, the dilapidated building of the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter—located in Ward 6 just behind the D.C. Jail on the former D.C. General Hospital campus—has been providing up to 130 beds for single women during the pandemic.

The building is situated in a bleak landscape, with abandoned buildings and torn-up side roads surrounding the shelter.

Crowded, low-barrier shelters like Tubman—open to any unhoused people—are the only spaces provided by the D.C. Department of Human Services that are available to unhoused pregnant women in their first or second trimester who do not already have minor children. According to the head of the agency’s Family Services Administration, Rachel Pierre, three-quarters of complaints DHS received from the shelter system between October of 2019 and March 2021 came from women clients at low-barrier shelters.

Pregnant women in their second or third trimester without minor children cannot access a private space in a family shelter because D.C.’s Homeless Services Reform Act has, since 2005, defined a “family” as someone with a minor or dependent child, or “a pregnant woman in her third trimester.” Yet adverse pregnancy outcomes for mothers and their babies are influenced by the conditions pregnant women experience from the first trimester—which means that the third trimester is far too late to begin providing specialized services.

Sheltering in place at a low-barrier shelter is not appropriate for an expectant mother in any trimester, advocates say. It’s difficult to maintain 6 feet of distance. You cannot control how much other people will clean or whether they will wear masks. And there is very little privacy for medical needs like telehealth prenatal visits.

“We’re being told in the pandemic to stay in your home, don’t interact with strangers, limit your exposure with others,” says Amber Harding, staff attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. “But the family shelter process forces people to stay with others and have contact with strangers or they won’t be found eligible.”

Despite the city’s various efforts to prevent homelessness, the barrier to single, pregnant women seeking adequate shelter during their first two trimesters has yet to be formally addressed.

Housing is prenatal health care

Housing for pregnant women is critical to maternal and infant health. Research shows that adverse environmental conditions, like being unhoused or living through a pandemic, can have a negative effect on pregnancy. Dr. Siobhan Burke, OB-GYN at Unity Health Care, D.C.’s largest health care provider for people experiencing homelessness, says that the stress and lack of healthy food access that accompanies houselessness can lead to problems with fetal growth.

D.C. fares worse than the national average when it comes to maternal and infant mortality rates, and in particular with Black maternal mortality rates (Black women are four to five times more likely to die because of pregnancy or childbirth than white women). According to the United Health Foundation, the maternal mortality rate in D.C. was 35.6 per 100,000 live births in 2019, compared with 29.6 nationally. The rate for Black women was 71 deaths per 100,000 live births in D.C., compared with 63.8 nationally. According to the CDC’s most recent data, the city’s infant mortality rate was 7.8 per 1,000 births, compared with 5.8 nationally.

In 2018, the District’s Child Fatality Review Committee reviewed the records of 33 infant deaths by natural causes in 2017 and found that all had been born prematurely (in the second trimester) and weighed less than the expected birth weight for their gestational age. Homelessness was identified as a common “environmental risk factor” for the mothers whose infants died in 2017. (The other three factors identified by the committee were histories of domestic violence, abuse or neglect, and mental health issues.) The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner stated that, while it recognizes the general negative impact of a mother’s housing insecurity on infants, it does not keep track of a mother’s housing status when assessing infant deaths.

Even an estimate of how many pregnant women experience houselessness in their first and second trimesters each year is hard to come by, given a lack of public data.

Obstructing access to family shelters

Even pregnant women in their third trimester or who already have minor children encounter obstacles to accessing family shelters, and often poor conditions and harassment by staff once they are admitted.

At a March 1 D.C. Council oversight hearing on the Department of Human Services, Susan Gallucci, executive director of women’s health and pregnancy empowerment nonprofit The Northwest Center, expressed grave concerns about the treatment of expectant mothers at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center as well as at low-barrier shelters.

“From what I’ve been told by the women that we serve, the intake process has become more like an interrogation and less like questions for an intake,” Gallucci told the council. “There has been an increase in complaints about the way in which a woman has been treated. Their requirements appear to have become more and more stringent and create additional barriers for pregnant women and families experiencing homelessness to find a safe, stable shelter.”

As reported previously by Street Sense Media, a homeless mother testified at a 2019 oversight hearing that she was denied family shelter access three times during hypothermia season in spite of having a 5-year-old son with her. She was only allowed access on her fourth attempt because she was accompanied by a lawyer. Once housed at the shelter, she said, “I was constantly harassed by staff and told that I was going to be terminated because … I wasn’t in my third trimester. And also because my doctor had pen-wrote-in my due date and put the signature beside there.”

When the Homeless Services Reform Act was amended in 2017, growing to 85 pages from its original 39 pages, the detailed update increased scrutiny to prevent families who were last housed outside of the District from entering D.C.’s family shelters. Every family applying for shelter is required to be screened first for eligibility for the Homelessness Prevention Program, which provides limited cash assistance and counseling to help stabilize homeless families, so they can stay with other family members or friends instead of entering the family shelter system.

In her testimony, Gallucci spoke about the “stringent” requirements that she believes are intended to discourage pregnant women from applying for shelter, such as the necessity to present current D.C. identification as proof that they are eligible for low-barrier shelter. “I spoke with a pregnant woman who had been living with her grandmother and then went to Virginia Williams when her grandmother passed away — and then was told that she had to obtain a copy of her deceased grandmother’s lease in order to receive services,” Galluci shared.

Even if they get to a family shelter in their third trimester, women may not get the services — or respect — that they need and deserve, said Taylar Nuevelle, founder of Who Speaks for Me?, a D.C.-based advocacy nonprofit focused on justice for women, girls, and LGBTQ people impacted by trauma.

“No one really cares,” she said. “Once the women get to the family shelter, there’s this push like they’ve overstayed their welcome as opposed to, ‘Take your time. It’s a pandemic.’ And when they go from low-barrier shelters to family shelters, they have a lot of catching up to do. They need help with making sure they have their WIC [food stamps for Women, Infants, and Children] and housing. Most of these women don’t have jobs. And if they do, they have to pay for child care, baby clothes, and they have to pay for cell phones. That’s why many of them don’t have phones.

“There’s a lack of respect for the trauma of being homeless and pregnant,” Nuevelle added.

Waiting for change

Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau heads the Committee on Human Services, which oversees the operations of the Department of Human Services. She is focused on early interventions to prevent homelessness, but also has been working on possible policy changes that would provide solutions for unhoused pregnant women, including access to family shelters.

Nadeau, a mother herself, indicated that she’s on board with enacting changes, but did not give a timeline of when she would introduce legislation. “Our pregnant mothers need as much support as we can get them here in the District. So if that means that we need to reexamine the policy when they’re eligible for family shelter, I’m happy to do it. But I also just want to be mostly focused on how we’re getting them the right services,” Nadeau said in an interview.

“Ideally you can help them permanently before they give birth,” she added. “You want that mom to not be worrying about her housing when she has a newborn.”

Pierre echoed Nadeau’s sentiments about the value of getting women access to interventions earlier in their pregnancies. She pointed to nonprofit programs such as Project Connect through Catholic Charities and the Homelessness Prevention Program through Community of Hope as alternative services available to pregnant women experiencing homelessness in the District.

Yet without understanding the scope of the problem for unhoused women, the situation cannot be adequately addressed. The annual “Point-in-Time Count” of people experiencing homelessness in D.C. does not report how many women surveyed were pregnant. (The Department of Human Services did not respond in time for publication by The DC Line and Street Sense Media to questions about how pregnancy among low-barrier shelter residents is tracked.) The only data point available to assess how many expectant mothers are in need is the number of people who receive services from the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, which does not include anyone in their first or second trimester.

In the meantime, advocates like Nuevelle are fighting to fill the gaps where D.C.’s provisions for unhoused pregnant women fall short. On many Saturday afternoons, you can find Nuevelle and a couple of dedicated volunteers outside of the Tubman shelter. She keeps returning despite run-ins with shelter staff and security enforcing rules that restrict donations of personal items and visitors. Nuevelle questions these rules and challenges staff to do more to help residents find permanent housing and get the personal items they need.

Like clockwork, when the women living in the shelter notice Nuevelle’s car pull up to the parking lot across the street on a Saturday afternoon, they line up to receive coats, boots, toiletries, socks, hand sanitizer and, perhaps, some hope.

This story was originally co-published by The DC Line and Street Sense Media.

The DC Line publishes high-quality, in-depth local public affairs journalism that community members need to fully engage in hometown D.C. Follow The DC Line on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for its daily newsletter.

Street Sense Media covers poverty in the D.C. region and is Washington, D.C.'s street paper, one of more than 100 worldwide contributed to and sold by people experiencing homelessness. Follow Street Sense Media on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram; and sign up for its weekly newsletter.

The two nonprofit newsrooms have co-published 30 articles together since 2019.

Candace Y.A. Montague
What Some in DSA Get Wrong About Socialist Alternative - Disagreement is inevitable in any political movement, but a recent In These Times essay examining “entryism's” threat to the Left demands a response. Thu, 15 Apr 2021 13:54:00 -0500 Editor's note: On March 30, In These Times published an essay by Bill Barclay, Leo Casey, Jack Clark, Richard Healey, Deborah Meier, Maxine Phillips, Chris Riddiough and Joseph M. Schwartz titled "The Dangers of Factionalism in DSA." The piece acknowledged the recent addition of Socialist Alternative members to the ranks of Democratic Socialists of America and explored how "entryism" or "parties within a party" have historically harmed the Left. In the spirit of debate, ITT has given Socialist Alternative the opportunity to issue the following response.

When we talk about the crisis of capitalism, we are not speaking euphemistically. The past year exposed millions of working people to the deep rot that sits at the core of the capitalist system. We're coming out of a pandemic that has killed half a million in the U.S., triggered historic levels of unemployment, and exposed capitalism's inability to protect public health. Working people face a housing crisis, a debt crisis, a global financial crisis, and a public health crisis, to say nothing of our ongoing climate emergency.

There are also huge opportunities for the left and the working class to organize. Efforts to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, may have fallen tragically short, but they have demonstrated the urgent need to organize the company's workers everywhere. While the trial of Derek Chauvin offers a chance to bring George Floyd's killer to justice, the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright has shown the fight for Black Lives is far from over. (Wright is one of just over 200 people who have been killed by police this year). The ongoing uprising in Myanmar, as well as the countless explosive protest movements globally over the past two years, hint at mammoth struggles on the horizon.

The left is at a turning point. After decades of defeat, we're faced with the challenge of adapting to a new period. The seriousness of our situation means we will have to build mass organizations that can lead a victorious struggle against capitalism. But we cannot move forward without debate. Socialist Alternative (SA) thanks the group of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) comrades for putting forward their views publicly, and In These Times for giving us a platform to reply.

Clearing things up

In December, SA announced that some of our members would be joining DSA. The motivation for this is the aforementioned crisis of capitalism, and the tremendous challenges ahead for socialists. The authors allege that some of our members have joined DSA in an attempt to “infiltrate” the organization and “force a split.” This couldn't be farther from the truth.

As we wrote at the time:

"In working together to build the socialist left, we want to avoid any unnecessary polarizations on organizational issues, and instead we'd like to focus patient debates on political questions facing our movement. Towards this end, we are not conducting any 'secret entryism.' Socialist Alternative members will be joining DSA openly and honestly, stating clearly their dual membership and their political positions in a comradely way."

This has only been confirmed over the past several months as our members have been busy attending DSA meetings, phone banking for the PRO Act, helping lead DSA study groups, and collaborating on local initiatives. The response from DSA members to our involvement has been overwhelmingly friendly.

The thrust of the comrades' article is a warning against “factionalism,” which we agree with in spirit. In our view, factions and caucuses, whether in Socialist Alternative or in DSA, are normal features of a democratic organization. DSA itself has a multitude of caucuses within it. Openly stating political positions, and organizing with other members on a principled basis, is healthy and often necessary to carry out debate in a coherent and honest way.

The danger of factionalism is not in the act of organizing as a faction or caucus but doing so in a dishonest fashion. Over-polarization of debates, assumptions of bad faith, and nasty accusations are detrimental to internal democracy because they do not provide a basis for the broader membership to weigh political arguments. In fact, they often serve to obscure central political questions in favor of secondary organizational ones. Debate and struggle between ideas is a fundamental aspect of democracy. Regardless of which viewpoint wins out, it should be an educational and clarifying process that empowers organizations to move forward in unity.

The comrades take issue with our descriptor of a “ban” on members of democratic centralist organizations joining DSA. They point to the DSA constitution to clarify that, rather than being a ban on membership, the clause allows the organization to expel any member found to be “under the discipline of any self-defined democratic centralist organization.” By this logic, SA members can join DSA so long as they're not discovered to be members of SA, at which point they're eligible for expulsion. On this basis, we maintain our opposition to this component of the DSA constitution. We would far prefer that our members who join DSA be open and honest about their dual membership.

There is sharp disagreement across DSA on how this rule should be interpreted, or if it should exist at all. Some chapter leaderships have cited this rule to exclude people as members, while other chapters have passed resolutions opposing the rule. We're happy that our dual members have largely been welcomed to participate in DSA, and we look forward to a clarification of this clause in the future.

The history of Trotskyism, Socialist Alternative, and the ISA

We are proud of our affiliation with Leon Trotsky. Along with those of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin, Trotsky's ideas are foundational to our theory of change. It is important to remember that organized “Trotskyism” emerged from the campaign to defend the Russian Revolution against not just the Stalinist bureaucracy but the reemergence of capitalism; we see Trotskyism as the historical continuation of Marxism.

The legacy of Trotsky includes titanic gains for the working class in the form of the Russian Revolution, but also crucial theoretical contributions like the use of the transitional method, the united front, and the theory of permanent revolution. These frameworks are even more relevant today than when Trotsky wrote about them.

Between the Moscow Trials in the Soviet Union and the ruling class' anti-communist hysteria in the U.S., Trotskyists in the early 20th century had to organize under incredibly difficult conditions. Even in the context of intense repression on multiple fronts, the Trotskyists in the Communist League of America were able to build an organization capable of leading the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters Strike.

We do not have the space to relitigate debates from the 1930s, 1960s, or 1970s, but Socialist Alternative rejects the suggestion it has anything in common with the Maoist sects of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SDS failed because it was unable to build a base in the working class, and we take no responsibility for its collapse.

Militant in the British Labour Party, by contrast, is an important part of our political heritage that we are glad our comrades have brought up. We're immensely proud of what Militant achieved: The Liverpool Council's heroic struggle against austerity, the Poll Tax movement that delivered a decisive blow to Margaret Thatcher's government, and a method of mobilizing thousands of working class people. Each represents an important victory in the hard-fought struggle against neoliberalism.

It is strange to use the example of Militant to argue for the marginalization of organized socialists. The very forces inside Labour that carried out the expulsion of Militant would lead the party to support the Iraq War, embrace savage neoliberal austerity and, years later, wage a vicious war on Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Right is now back in charge, and it is clear that it must be fought. Throughout the witch hunt against Corbyn and the Labour Left, the Blairite wing of the party continues to use Militant's legacy and “Trots” as a bogeyman to suppress working class politics. This approach has been a decisive factor in maintaining Tory rule, showing the disastrous consequences of redbaiting for working people and the left.

DSA is not the Labour Party, and we aren't carrying out the tactics of Militant. Like all Marxists, we base our work on our perspectives: general assessments of class forces and predictions for how events will likely develop. Perspectives do not provide formulas, of course, but they are fundamental to materialist analysis and the development of on-the-ground strategies.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union necessitated a significant change in our perspectives. We recognized that this monumental event produced a capitalist triumphalism and an acceptance in wide sections of society that there was “no alternative” to this system. At all levels of our international organization, we adopted the strategy of the “dual task.” This meant struggling to build the forces of revolutionary Marxism while also urgently fighting for the formation (or reformation) of mass worker organizations, be they unions, community campaigns or new political parties.

Given today's current conditions and the objective need to grow and consolidate the left, our view is that a split or disruption of DSA's work and internal democracy would be an enormous loss for the socialist movement.

What is Socialist Alternative up to?

While a few of the attacks levied against our members have unquestionably been made in bad faith, we do not fault DSA members for being curious about SA's aims in joining DSA. DSA members should be proud of their organization and its accomplishments, and the impulse to defend its successes is understandable.

How Socialist Alternative organizes itself internally, how we run campaigns, and our case for breaking with the Democrats and building a workers' party are among the countless topics we are open to discussing. For DSA members seeking clarification on these questions, we are excited to engage in productive dialogue around these issues as we deepen our collaboration.

Socialist Alternative members have never seen ourselves as competitors of DSA. We have welcomed DSA's growth at every stage, campaigned on the ground for DSA-backed candidates, and engaged in fruitful joint work with DSA chapters across the country for years.

The idea that our organizations have conflicting interests is absurd. Of course, in a multi-tendency organization, individuals or caucuses may put forward positions that we oppose. Where those disagreements exist, we state them openly. This is the spirit in which we've participated in debates that have arisen around how to hold elected officials accountable, the limits of basing electoral work on the Democratic ballot line, and the importance of a combative, movement-building strategy to win victories. These are not criticisms of DSA or attacks on those with whom we disagree but clear statements of our politics and contributions to the necessary discussions around what tactics and strategies are in the best interest of the working class.

As longtime supporters of new, broad formations for class struggle, it is eminently clear why we would see the growth of a big-tent organization of Left activists as an enormously positive development. This attitude is not mutually exclusive with being proud of SA and invested in the ongoing work of our independent organization. Our dual members, in addition to being excited to learn from the many talented activists in DSA, have skills, insights, and organizing experience of their own to share.

We're enormously proud to call Kshama Sawant a member of Socialist Alternative. Kshama's work as the only independent socialist on the Seattle City Council—and the campaign to defend her seat from a billionaire-backed recall—is extremely important for all socialists to study and actively support. The most high-profile victories she's led, like the $15 minimum wage and the Amazon Tax to fund social housing and Green New Deal projects, each represented huge redistributions of wealth from the billionaire class to the working class in Seattle. These victories were not won through the legislative power of Kshama's seat but through the building of democratically organized grassroots campaigns that deliberately sought the broadest possible involvement from working class people and organizations.

Our council office has spearheaded landmark tenant protections like capping move-in fees, prohibiting rent increases in dilapidated buildings and banning winter evictions. Earlier this month, we won a guaranteed right to counsel for all renters facing removal from their homes. Throughout her time in office, Kshama has championed tenant organizing, working closely with tenant unions and using her platform to educate renters on how to organize their buildings. Kshama has been a fierce fighter in the Black Lives Matter movement, putting forward a first-in-the-nation ban on weapons against peaceful protest, and she remains one of the only politicians in the country who continues to call for the police to be defunded.

While we are eager to champion Kshama's accomplishments in office, our work does not solely revolve around her Seattle city council seat. Over the past year, our members have played an important role in a number of key struggles across the country. During the height of the Black Lives Matter rebellion, our members in the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in Minneapolis mobilized bus drivers to refuse to transport #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd protestors for the police, demonstrating the crucial role the working class has to play in fighting racism. Workers in other cities would later adopt the same tactics.

During the protests, SA members in the American Postal Workers Union also lent their support to the movement for Black lives by organizing public solidarity actions. We played a leading role in the Somerville Teachers Association's contract battle that won a crucial pay increase for Somerville paraprofessionals. And our members fought hard alongside DSA and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) against Mayor Lori Lightfoot's unsafe school reopening in Chicago.

Our work in the labor movement is not limited to unions where we have members. Wherever the working class is fighting for better conditions, from the Oakland teachers strike to the Stop & Shop strike in New England to the union drive in Bessemer, Socialist Alternative has been there to help in any way we can. That work includes building community solidarity, engaging on the picket lines with workers and strategizing the best tactics to win. We played an outsized role in the $15-minimum-wage victory in Minneapolis. Our affiliation with International Socialist Alternative, which is active in over 30 countries on six continents, is fundamental to our politics and has provided keen insight into the global struggle against capitalism.

Characterizing Socialist Alternative's involvement in DSA as “entryism” or “a party within a party” is woefully inaccurate, especially given that less than 100 of our more than 1,000 members are in DSA. Most are deeply involved with our independent work as Socialist Alternative, and continue to recruit to SA in workplaces, college campuses, and working-class neighborhoods. All across the country, our members are forging broad community coalitions to fight and win, from Stop The Station in Pittsburgh to Tax Amazon Burbank to an anti-gentrification campaign to stop the construction of a new luxury college dorm in Boston to ongoing tenant organizing in Brooklyn.

Maintaining our independent organization plainly reflects our belief that a tight-knit Marxist party working in conjunction with a broad multi-tendency Left has the best chance to succeed.

Remembering the stakes

Working class people are in a fight for our lives. Our real enemies are right in front of us: billionaires have hoarded unprecedented levels of wealth at our expense while capitalism continues to do irreversible damage to the planet.

We need to figure out how to win Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, a living wage, rent control, and ultimately a wholesale transformation society based on human need and solidarity.

Our vision for the socialist movement is vibrant, healthy, and democratic. It is only natural that there will be a period of discussion as we strive to reach principled unity, and this is why we welcome open debates. Sectarian mudslinging reflects poorly on our movement at a time when growing numbers of working people are looking for a way to fight back against the system.

We can't lose sight of the seriousness of the challenges ahead, and the objective need for the working class to overthrow capitalism. Socialists have an obligation to lead the way with confidence and strength in numbers. Cynicism, pessimism, and fear are useless when we have a world to win.

Grace Fors
A Debate Over Carbon Capture in the Infrastructure Bill Could Test the Labor-Climate Alliance - President Biden wants to include carbon capture technology in his push for infrastructure investment. While unions are on board, some climate groups are keeping quiet for now. Thu, 15 Apr 2021 11:06:00 -0500 In late March, President Joe Biden unveiled a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, that his administration hopes to move forward this year. The plan would make major investments in improving physical infrastructure such as roads, schools and bridges while also creating good-paying jobs, expanding collective bargaining rights and funding long-term care services under Medicaid.

The president’s plan also endorsed another proposal that a group of bipartisan lawmakers hope makes it into a final bill: expanding carbon-capture utilization and storage (CCUS) in the United States. The SCALE Act, introduced in mid-March by eleven senators and six House representatives, represents the country’s first comprehensive CO2 infrastructure and jobs bill. In describing the president’s infrastructure plan, the White House said it “will support large-scale sequestration efforts” that are “in line with the bipartisan SCALE Act.”

The legislation, which would authorize $4.9 billion in spending over five years, would create programs to transport and store carbon underground. Its provisions include establishing low-interest loan programs modeled off of federal highway development programs, increasing EPA funding for permitting carbon storage wells, and providing grants to states to create their own permitting programs. Advocates point to countries such as Canada, Norway and Australia where elected officials have made similar investments in carbon storage infrastructure.

The SCALE Act is notable both for the support it has, and hasn’t, received. Its early endorsers include a half-dozen industrial labor unions, centrist climate groups like the National Wildlife Federation, and energy companies like GE Gas Power and Calpine. Fossil fuel industry support for carbon-capture has historically been a top reason why progressive climate groups, meanwhile, remain skeptical of the idea, wary of subsidizing anything that amounts to corporate giveaways to some of the world’s worst polluters. While carbon-capture has long been a flashpoint in Democratic climate politics, most critics of the policy have stayed quiet on the SCALE Act for now.

Modeling released in December by the Princeton Net-Zero America Project found that construction of nearly 12,000 miles of pipelines capable of storing 65 million tons of CO2 per year would be needed by 2030 for the United States to reach net-zero emissions by 2050—a stated goal of the Biden administration. The Clean Air Task Force, a climate advocacy group, says the SCALE Act programs are “consistent” with the quantity and timeline of infrastructure deployment needed to meet those goals.

To date, nearly all U.S. carbon-capture projects are situated near existing CO2 pipelines and Lee Beck, the CCUS policy innovation director at the Clean Air Task Force, says the SCALE Act’s goal would be to capture emissions from multiple sources and then transport the CO2 for storage elsewhere, as is currently being carried out through Canada’s Alberta Carbon Trunk Line System and Norway’s Northern Lights Project.

Supporters point to a number of recent scientific analyses that make the case for greater investment in carbon-capture. In February, the National Academies of Sciences released a report on decarbonizing the U.S. energy system which recommends that, over next decade, officials should focus on increasing deployment of carbon-capture technologies by a factor of ten while investing in permanent CO2 storage infrastructure. In 2020, the International Energy Agency warned that it would be “virtually impossible” to reach net-zero emissions without carbon capture technology, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said carbon capture is likely necessary to meet global climate targets. Supporters note that renewable energy sources like wind and solar are not viable alternatives for reducing carbon emissions in the industrial sector, which account for 32 percent of the United States’ energy use and nearly a quarter of its direct greenhouse gas emissions.

President Biden’s campaign climate plan called for accelerating development of carbon-capture and he included Brad Markell, the executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, on his Department of Energy transition team. Markell endorsed the SCALE Act in March and said it “will be crucial to meeting President Biden’s goals of reaching net-zero emissions in the power sector by 2035 and economywide by 2050.”

In addition to Biden’s support, the Congressional politics bode well for SCALE Act advocates. Introduced by Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) in the Senate, the bill would first go through the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), a co-sponsor of the bill, serves as chair. The House version of the bill was introduced by Reps. Marc Veasey (D-TX) and David McKinley (R-W.V.) and the chamber passed several carbon-capture bills last year. In March, Democratic governors of Pennsylvania and Louisiana (Tom Wolf and John Bel Edwards) joined the Republican governors of Oklahoma and Wyoming (Kevin Stitt and Mark Gordon), in writing a letter to Congress urging the passage of the SCALE Act in any future infrastructure package.

In an email, Sen. Coons told In These Times that he “appreciates [Energy] Secretary Granholm’s public statements in support of CCUS, including CCUS transport infrastructure, and am encouraged by my conversations with the Biden administration over the last several months.”

Perhaps the biggest asset working in the SCALE Act’s favor is the support of organized labor. Biden has faced heat in the media in recent weeks over whether he can truly deliver an ambitious climate agenda while supporting unions. The SCALE Act has endorsements from labor groups including the Utility Workers Union of America, IBEW and North America’s Building Trades Unions. And the BlueGreen Alliance—a coalition of labor and environmental groups—supports CCUS, though has not yet taken a position on the bill. One analysis commissioned through the Decarb America Research Initiative estimated that the SCALE Act would generate roughly 13,000 jobs annually over the 5-year period, though many unions are excited by the prospect of simply maintaining existing jobs.

“We see carbon-capture technology as a way to retain jobs in industries that are core sectors of our union,” said Anna Fendley, the director of Regulatory and State Policy for the United Steelworkers. “It feels like the conversation around reducing emissions in the U.S. has been so focused on the power sector for so long and now a lot of groups and advocates are learning more about the industrial sector.”

A false solution?

Carbon-capture opponents have described the policy as one of several “false solutions” to the climate crisis. Though many of these activists typically say that we can’t afford not to invest in fighting climate change, on matters of CCUS, they argue the technologies are too expensive, too under-developed, and will detract from other important investments that government needs to make in order to transform the economy. At worst, critics fear investments in carbon-capture could prolong overall dependence on fossil fuels.

Last September, the House of Representatives passed a clean energy package, but after a coalition of progressive climate groups—including Sunrise Movement, Friends of the Earth, and the Climate Justice Alliance—protested the bill’s inclusion of pro-carbon capture provisions, 18 Democrats, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), voted against it. In These Times reached out to a number of climate groups that have opposed carbon-capture infrastructure in the past, including Sunrise Movement, Friends of the Earth, and the Labor Network for Sustainability. Most have not spoken publicly on the SCALE Act to date and declined to comment for this story.

Limited organizational capacity for rapid legislative analysis is one possible factor for the silence. Joe Uehlein, president of the Labor Network for Sustainability, said their group had not heard about the SCALE Act prior to In These Times’ inquiry. While noting they are “not in the CCUS camp,” Uehlein said the group hasn’t yet decided how it plans to respond to the bill. The Sierra Club declined the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s request for comment on the SCALE Act.

Some left-wing organizations, like Sunrise Movement and Evergreen Action, have previously acknowledged that industrial carbon capture could be acceptable, and others have expressed more interest in direct air capture, a method that sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Basav Sen, the Climate Justice Project Director at the Institute for Policy Studies and the co-chair of the Energy Democracy Working Group at the Climate Justice Alliance, told In These Times that rather than protesting individual pieces of carbon-capture legislation—“which would make it a game of whack-a-mole”—environmental justice groups in his coalition are focused on educating members of Congress and their staff on why they should avoid such “false solutions” altogether. He added that putting new demands on the electrical grid through CCUS, direct air capture, and even industrial production of steel and cement at current levels was misguided at this stage of the transition away from fossil fuel energy.

Sen also criticized carbon-capture advocates for citing the 2018 IPCC report as evidence that CCUS is needed, as opposed to reforestation which the IPCC also explored. Reforestation, or replanting an area with tress, is another way to remove CO2 from the air. Research suggests this solution can also offer significant short-term emissions reductions, but a 2019 IPCC report also warned that planting large-scale forests for carbon-removal efforts could lead to increased food insecurity and other environmental issues.

Beck, of the Clean Air Task Force, argued that it would be irresponsible to take any decarbonization options off the table in 2021, and emphasized that building out CO2 infrastructure would not help keep aging or non-economical facilities online. Shannon Heyck-Williams of the National Wildlife Federation agreed that “when it comes to coal power generation, there really is no future for coal power in America and carbon-capture doesn’t change that.”

But Beck and Heyck-Williams also maintained that, since there are so many existing natural gas facilities in the United States, it does makes sense to try and capture the carbon coming out of those plants—at least for now. “It would be faster to retrofit some of these facilities than expect they will be all phased out in the next decade in the current climate policy environment,” argued Beck.

SCALE Act supporters know they’ll have to tread carefully with language around CO2 pipelines, given the years of dedicated activism in the climate movement against new oil and gas pipelines. Advocates of CCUS prefer to focus on phrases like “CO2 infrastructure” and “carbon management,” which they hope will steer the conversation away from flashpoints like Keystone XL. Beck notes that carbon infrastructure includes not just pipelines but also shipping, rail and barge. “CO2 pipelines are very different in terms of size and safety,” added Jessie Stolark, the public policy and members relations manager for the Carbon Capture Coalition. “But to be completely honest, I do think we have an uphill battle in terms of reassuring people and conveying that kind of information.”

Whether progressive climate groups will choose to rally opposition to a congressional infrastructure bill that includes the SCALE Act—like they did for the clean energy package in 2020—remains unclear. It will undoubtedly be tougher to pressure lawmakers to vote against a package that includes so many other key priorities. For now, rather than take aim at Biden’s new infrastructure plan for its support for carbon-capture, progressive climate groups have stuck to criticizing the package for committing too little spending on climate change mitigation efforts overall, with some advocates calling for a minimum of $10 trillion in spending over the next decade.

“It’s up to us to ensure that this proposal is strengthened, becomes law and that it is the first of many pieces of legislation that will address the many crises facing our generation,” said Deirdre Shelly of the Sunrise Movement.

Rachel M. Cohen
This Republican "Working Class Party" Thing Is a Clown Show of the Highest Order - Try harder, Ivy League scum. Thu, 15 Apr 2021 10:19:00 -0500 A fifth grade book report scrawled hastily on the bus ride to school. A sandwich made with a single slice of translucent ham. A teenager throwing dirty clothes under the bed as a way of cleaning his room. To this pantheon of the World’s Most Pathetic Attempts, we must now add: The GOP’s reinvention as a “working class party.” For an organization so adept at lying to the public, it’s a little disappointing that they’re not trying harder here.

Always and everywhere, the art of politics has depended in large part on tricking an ignorant populace about what you are actually doing. On this, we must give the Republican Party high marks. It is a party that exists primarily to protect and increase the wealth of the rich, and it has managed to enlist tens of millions of unwary non-rich people to flock to this cause. Their most revered standard bearer of modern times was Ronald Reagan, a B-list actor who railed against the government that employed him and supported death squads that murdered nuns while passing himself off as the family values candidate. The party’s most recent president, Donald Trump, was one of the most brazenly ignorant men in the country, who resorted to just waving around a physical Bible because he couldn’t quote any of the words inside. This, along with the act of rubbing his face against an American flag, was enough to convince a large chunk of religious people in America that he was one of them, despite his divorces, idolatry and vocal support of the death penalty for innocent men. The Republican Party’s track record of waving flags, guns, and crosses enthusiastically enough to create a blur that obscures the fact that they're funneling everyone’s money directly into the pockets of the class of people who need it the least is one of conspicuous success. I respect their talent for sleight of hand, if not anything else about them.

Trump—a man who literally lives in a golden palace in the sky—found some success branding himself the “Blue Collar Billionaire,” a phrase that mostly meant he was willing to talk like an asshole, which Republican strategists assume is the main characteristic of anyone blue collar. From this humble seed has sprouted a tentative party-wide attempt to wrap itself in the cloak of The Working Class. The substance of this attempt, however, is enough to make you suspect that these elected leaders may, perhaps, be somewhat less than sincere.

Leaving aside the goofy campaign videos of candidates holding guns and the constant allusions to “family farms” to justify policies crafted by Monsanto, here, according to the Wall Street Journal, are the recent policy proposals that underlie the Republican “Working Class Party” claim: 1) various proposals for tax credits aimed at families with children, floated by Senators Rubio, Lee, Romney, and a conservative think tank; 2) a Josh Hawley-authored proposal for a tax credit tied to hours worked; and 3) a proposal by Romney and Tom Cotton to raise the minimum wage to a whopping $10 an hour, which is tied to a plan to ensure no undocumented immigrants get it.

That’s it! A glorious plan to elevate the working class to grandeur with a few tax credits and a shitty minimum wage with an element of racism built into it. One of the funniest things about this meager platform is that it reveals that the Republican Party assumes the “working class” is both uniformly racist and enamored by tax credits, two assumptions that are not only false but which clearly originated with exactly the type of K Street/ Ivy League political reptiles who have no direct contact with the working class.

Who is leading this Republican blue collar revolution? Donald Trump, the born-rich billionaire property developer? Mitt Romney, the private equity executive? Josh Hawley, the Yale Law School attorney? Ted Cruz, the Harvard Law School attorney, who resembles a humanoid pile of pizza dough with the mannerisms of a crooked televangelist? Or maybe Tucker Carlson, the bow tie-wearing son of an ambassador and heir to the Swanson frozen food fortune? Not a single one of these baby-handed private school scum could do one day’s work of a union nurse at a public hospital without passing out from fevered delirium, yet they propose to lead the American working class into the promised land—one full of, you know, modest tax credits and racism.

To this amusingly paltry set of policies we should grudgingly add the Republican Party’s campaign against “wokeness” and “cancel culture,” the most recent made-up terms for the same right wing culture war that has been waged against everything from “political correctness” to “integration.” I am not convinced that people working three jobs are going to adopt as their top issue the possibility that a college professor might lose a book contract for saying something bad about trans people. It just doesn’t strike me as an adequate substitute for, say, a significant wage increase. I don’t underestimate the American appetite for racism, but the working class in general is much more concerned with getting “canceled” by a landlord evicting them from their apartment than with getting canceled by, say, your elite media colleagues who think you are a jerk. Keep workshopping this, GOP.

The most surprising thing about all of this is that history is replete with politicians who have proven that actually progressive economic policies mixed with pandering to white grievance and racism is a winning formula. Today’s Republicans just can’t pull this off, because their donors would not stand for the progressive economic part. Instead, they are trying to lean into the white grievance and hope that the working class won’t notice that it is not paired with anything that will make their lives materially better. And that is why this little foray into populist cosplay will ultimately fail. Voters may be ignorant, prejudiced, gullible, and susceptible to all sorts of misinformation—but they can count. Bank accounts don't lie. The class war can only have one winner, and when it comes to the the interests of the working class, Republicans are on the wrong side.

Hamilton Nolan
Towards a World Without Roadkill: Appalachians Make the Case for Wildlife Crossings - In Southern Appalachia, highways fracture the habitat of bears, elk, deer and other wildlife. Locals are pushing to make roads safer for animals and drivers. Thu, 15 Apr 2021 07:00:00 -0500 Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Appalachian Voice.

Jean Loveday is driving her husband, Tom, home from a doctor’s appointment in Johnson City, Tennessee. Their Toyota pickup truck is winding along Interstate 26, not far from the North Carolina state line north of Asheville.

Suddenly Loveday sees something black tumbling down the mountain and out into the highway in her peripheral view. “Oh no, Tom, oh no!” she mumbles. Loveday realizes it’s a bear cub hurtling toward them. She attempts to avoid hitting it by steering into the median, but vehicle and animal seem destined to collide.

“It all happened so fast,” she says today. “I don’t know where its mother was, whether the cub was following her or on its own. We stopped. It moved for a few minutes, and then was still. All I could think for days was, ‘I killed a bear cub!’ I hope I never, ever have to go through that again.”

Loveday is overwhelmed with emotion as she relates this sad memory, one shared by many motorists in the Southern Appalachians.

“I don’t care where you are on the political spectrum, no one wants to hit an animal with their vehicle,” says Jeff Hunter, senior program manager for National Parks Conservation Association, an organization devoted to protecting and enhancing the national parks system for future generations.

Highways pose lethal hazards to animals looking for food, water and other resources. Photo courtesy of National Parks Conservation Association and Wildlands Network.

In early 2017, Hunter convened a group of people who were concerned about the rising numbers of bear, deer and elk being hit on another highway that straddles the Tennessee–North Carolina border—Interstate 40 near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some years have seen as many as 70 road-killed bears in this curvy 28-mile section of road alone, and elk reintroduced to the park in 2001 are now crossing the highway to expand their range.

“Human infrastructure is making it increasingly difficult for wildlife to follow their natural patterns of movement across the landscape,” says Hugh Irwin, a landscape conservation planner with The Wilderness Society who raised concerns back in the 1990s about I-40 being a barrier to wildlife movement. “Historically too little thought and planning has gone into wildlife needs, and our current infrastructure fails to provide for wildlife passage.”

Passionate discussions led to action, and soon more than 80 individuals from nearly 20 federal, state, Tribal, and non-governmental organizations were collaborating to make this section of roadway more permeable for wildlife and safer for people. This year, in late February, the group announced itself publicly as Safe Passage: The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project.

Roadkill’s “Pernicious Twin”

The intersection of roads and wildlife is a safety issue that is not unique to North Carolina and Tennessee. According to the Federal Highway Administration, an estimated two million large mammals are hit on roads in the United States each year, resulting in more than 26,000 human injuries and at least 200 human fatalities.

For years, road ecologists around the world have been working to mitigate highways that were originally designed without consideration for wildlife. Europe, Canada, Mexico, and many U.S. states have already created effective wildlife road crossings. Recent articles and videos featuring large wildlife overpasses in Utah and Texas have been shared widely on social media.

Senior Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser (pronounced ‘Houser’) with the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University in Bozeman has contributed to road ecology studies for more than two decades. He cites three main reasons why people care about this issue: the desire for wildlife conservation, concern for human safety, and economics. “No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living, you’re going to care about at least one of these,” he says.

On Nov. 26, 2019, The Atlantic ran an auspicious road ecology article by Ben Goldfarb titled “How Roadkill Became an Environmental Disaster.” Focusing on the giant anteaters of Brazil, whose range is—you guessed it—bisected by a huge highway, the epic, riveting story introduces readers to Evelyn the anteater and a cast of road-weary researchers. One particular Goldfarb quote became the motto for researchers assessing wildlife movement and mortality in the Pigeon River Gorge: “Collisions may be road ecology’s most obvious concern, but fragmentation is roadkill’s pernicious twin.”

Conservationists point out the gravity of individual animals being killed on roads. But when they no longer try to cross, it can signal an even more dire situation.

“When wildlife finally stops even trying to cross, the highway has become a barrier,” says Hunter. “The ‘barrier effect’ is not to be confused with the concrete Jersey barriers that prevent many individual crossings. When a whole population stops crossing the road, that means their habitat is now fragmented, preventing the healthy genetic exchange that species need to thrive.”

Ron Sutherland works to restore, reconnect and re-establish wildlife corridors that have been fragmented throughout the eastern United States in his role as chief scientist with Wildlands Network, the organization that kicked off discussions about mitigation to I-40 in 2015. He defines habitat connectivity as the degree to which organisms are able to move freely across the landscape.

“Habitat connectivity can be very high, such as in a remote and intact wilderness,” he says, “or it can be very low, such as in a city park surrounded on all sides by busy highways.”

Sutherland points out that people often get wildlife corridors and wildlife road crossings confused.

“A wildlife corridor is the term we use for a defined movement pathway that, if protected or restored, would provide essential habitat connectivity for one or more species,” he says. “They can be easy to see—such as a vegetated trail alongside a roadway—or nearly invisible and defined only by the movements of the animals.”

A wildlife road crossing, on the other hand, is “a structure that is designed to allow wildlife to safely cross over or under a busy road,” he says. “So, of course it follows that one of the best places to put wildlife road crossings is where you have a wildlife corridor that gets cut off by a highway.”

Captivating Research in the Gorge

The best places to put wildlife road crossings along the 28-mile stretch of winding mountainous terrain in the Pigeon River Gorge are precisely what researchers are working to figure out. For the past two years, National Parks Conservation Association and Wildlands Network have been collecting data that will help them identify key areas and strategies for mitigating the road between Asheville and Knoxville, preparing Safe Passage to make recommendations that can be implemented during planned road maintenance and bridge repairs.

Interstate 40 was built in 1968. Like hundreds of roads that now crisscross the Southeast, it sliced through a mountain landscape where animals had freely followed ancient wildlife corridors for millenia. Back in the ’60s, there were fewer vehicles and fewer animals. Today some 27,000 cars and trucks travel this road daily while, not far away, some of the park’s 1,900 black bears are searching for food, mates and shelter, which leads them to traverse the mosaic of wild, steep and rugged public and private lands that make up the gorge. What's more, elk too are now attempting to cross these roads, sometimes joining their fellow ungulates, the prolific white-tailed deer, in sad deaths involving hours of suffering.

Researchers are stymied when it comes to finding a way to count the many individual animals who sustain severe injuries and make it off the roadway, only to die later in the forest.

“With both animal and human populations increasing alongside growing tourism in
the Smokies region,” says Hunter, “this situation is expected to get worse over the next decade.”

Wildlife crossings can only succeed if located where animals wish to cross the road, not just where it may be easy or convenient from a construction perspective. To this end, researchers have employed wildlife cameras to help them assess wildlife road mortality patterns in the gorge and examine how some animals use existing structures such as culverts designed to move water under the roads. They have also been tracking wildlife activity in the right-of-way alongside the road. To follow elk movement, wildlife biologist Liz Hillard is conducting a GPS-collar study.

“The topography is driving where these elk are moving,” says Hillard, a wildlife biologist with Wildlands Network. “They’re trying to spend the least amount of energy, so they follow low-slope areas, moving through the landscape in what we call the path of least resistance.”

Hillard works closely with Steve Goodman, NPCA’s wildlife researcher in the gorge, whose work is funded by the Volgenau Foundation. He has been servicing the 120 camera traps and collecting their data for the past two years.

“Regionally—and nationally—this area is widely considered to be of high conservation value and comprised of key habitat corridors that are critical for long-term flow of both plants and animals,” Goodman says. “The first step to mitigation is gaining an understanding of how these animals navigate the landscape. Where do they go, when, and why?”

Goodman and Hillard are examining “hotspots” where the most animals are getting killed, as well as places where some fortunate bear, deer and elk are successfully getting from one side of the interstate to the other. Their data will prepare Safe Passage to collaborate with local departments of transportation on bridge improvements planned for the next five years. The first of these may begin as early as fall of 2021 at the Harmon Den exit near the intersection with the Appalachian Trail, where a herd of elk have dispersed from the population reintroduced in the Smokies 20 years ago.

Benefits Outweigh the Costs

When it comes to road ecology, the economic reality can be as shocking as the roadkill. But Huijser says, in the long term, the benefits outweigh the costs.

“Collision-related costs add up to roughly $12 billion annually in the U.S.,” he says. “The cost of a deer–vehicle collision averages around $6,000 and running into an elk can cost upwards of $17,000.”

Wildlife crossing structures and road mitigation have improved human safety and wildlife corridor connectivity at Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 in Washington State, along the Trans-Canada Highway in the Rocky Mountains and Banff National Park, and on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana where Huijser worked for 13 years. In these examples, fencing successfully reduces collisions and guides wildlife to safe-crossing opportunities such as vegetated overpasses, open-span bridges, and large- and medium-mammal underpasses. Dozens of such wildlife corridor projects have led to an 80–95% collision reduction with large mammals like deer and elk since the mid-’90s.

Although road mitigation measures are good for human safety and for animals, they cost money. Fences may cost about $100,000 per mile, an underpass may require around half a million to build, and a single wildlife overpass can cost up to $10 million.

But Huijser the research ecologist says that society can’t afford not to.

“Implementing effective mitigation measures substantially reduces costs associated with wildlife–vehicle collisions by 80–100%,” Huijser says. “Bottom line: Even if people don’t care about human safety or wildlife conservation, it can still make economic sense. And if you consider the biological conservation aspect, the value expands to take in benefits to local tourism economies and other economic benefits of having healthy wildlife populations in the landscape.”

In 2020 and 2021, Wildlands Network worked with a coalition of Virginia partners to get landmark bipartisan legislation passed in support of wildlife crossings. These efforts direct the relevant agencies to collaborate, incorporating wildlife corridors and road crossings into their design and planning stages—a major step forward both in protecting motorists from collisions with animals and in addressing barriers to wildlife movement.

“Here in North Carolina, our coalition is analyzing an array of possible mechanisms that will best serve the agencies and goals of connectivity on the landscape to achieve significant reduction of collisions with wildlife,” says Christine Laporte, the Eastern program director at Wildlands Network. “Safety, conservation, economic considerations of crossing, and mitigation initiatives all benefit from a range of state-level mechanisms that support use of the best available science for effective designs and actual structures on the ground.”

Irwin of The Wilderness Society says, “Going forward, wildlife movement patterns and needs should be incorporated into infrastructure planning, and existing infrastructure should be retrofitted over time to enable better wildlife movement without the current high levels of wildlife mortality as well as human impacts and property damage.”

Whatever road mitigations and crossing structures are eventually implemented in the steep terrain of the Pigeon River Gorge, Safe Passage hopes its collaborative effort will become the model for others championing change on regional roads with similar issues. For example, elk often congregate near and on Highway 19 in Maggie Valley and Cherokee, North Carolina. In October of 2019, an elk was found dead on the shoulder of Interstate 26 in East Tennessee approaching Sams Gap, not far from the Appalachian Trail. This death alerted researchers to the fact that these large ungulates are beginning to cross rivers and disperse to create new herds far from their 2001 reintroduction site in Cataloochee on the southeastern side of the Smokies.

“Our research in the Pigeon River Gorge is now in its final stages,” says Hunter, “and we don’t have all the answers yet. But one thing we do know is that collaborative partnerships like Safe Passage are critical to finding the best path forward.”

The Safe Passage Fund Coalition comprises The Conservation Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Smoky Mountains Association, National Parks Conservation Association, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Wildlands Network.

Frances Figart
A Worldwide Workers' Revolt Against Amazon Has Begun - Bessemer was just the beginning. Amazon workers from Italy to India are uniting to form a global movement that may have found Jeff Bezos’s Achilles heel. Thu, 15 Apr 2021 07:00:00 -0500 The union drive at Amazon’s 885,000-square-foot warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, failed. But the historic campaign nabbed global headlines and added fuel to ongoing workers’ revolts across the world.

Strikes by Amazon workers in Italy, Germany and India are coalescing into an international struggle against the world’s fourth-most valuable company and its grueling working conditions and intensive surveillance.

Since the dawn of capitalism, bosses have found innovations to oversee and extract more work from the overstressed bodies of their labor force. But Amazon’s minute surveillance of workers—who, at the Bessemer facility, are mostly Black and women—would make the Stasi blush. At the company’s warehouses, workers use hand-held devices that track their every move and assess their speed and accuracy. What is particularly novel about Amazon, as Joe DeManuelle-Hall writes in the movement publication Labor Notes, is how it brings together productivity innovations to create a regime of terror on the shop floor, with pressures that infamously force workers to pee in bottles rather than take breaks.

Amazon, along with Walmart, its fiercest competitor, is the 21st century’s quintessential factory floor.

Blue-collar Amazon workers keep the cascade of goods around the world flowing; they are the muscle that fulfills consumer desire as it barrels down the arterial lanes of These ground logistics leave behind more than just pixel dust, wreaking devastating environmental havoc: a carbon footprint in the millions of metric tons, rivaling roughly the annual emissions of Norway.

Through the alchemy of supply chain management, the goods sold through Amazon—everything from PlayStations to yoga pants—travel via cargo vans, airplanes and ships across a global infrastructure of roads, skies and oceans on their voyage to customers’ doorsteps.

Like the 19th-century workers forging steel for Andrew Carnegie, refining oil for John D. Rockefeller or building cars for Henry Ford, Amazon workers are up against a titan of industry: Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world. Bezos took advantage of the new and unregulated terrain of e-commerce to behave as ruthlessly as those titans of yore.

“Jeff Bezos and his crew of techies and quants simply did what robber barons have always done: Raise, spend and sometimes lose other people’s money, dodge taxes, swindle suppliers and avoid unions,” Kim Moody writes in the essay collection, The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy.

Now, understanding how critical they are to fulfilling Amazon’s promise of just-in-time delivery, Amazon workers are organizing for control of their workplaces. Their indispensability is their leverage to negotiate safer working conditions, dignity on the job and pay commensurate with the value they’ve produced: $21.33 billion in net income for Amazon in 2020 (a $9.7 billion increase during the pandemic) and $67.9 billion more for Bezos’ already obscene oodles of wealth.

And the spark ignited in Alabama is catching on. Perry Connelly, a 58-year-old Bessemer worker, says the union campaign received an outpouring of support from around the world. He realized that, by challenging Amazon in the South—a regional stronghold of anti-union fortification—“we’ll be making a huge difference not only in Alabama, but globally.”

A Global Resistance

Workers around the world—from Colombia to Nigeria to Myanmar—have expressed solidarity with Amazon’s workers in Alabama. When Italy’s largest labor federation, Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL), went on strike March 22 at 15 Amazon warehouses (alongside other unions), workers carried a banner that read, “From Piacenza to Alabama—One Big Union.”

“Amazon workers in Europe understand that an organized workforce in the United States would be a gamechanger,” says Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, which has coordinated international Amazon worker actions.

Of Amazon’s estimated 1,538 facilities of all types worldwide, 290 are in Europe, 294 are in India, and 887 are in North America. The bulk of those are in the United States—with more on the way as Amazon expands into urban areas. (Amazon also has a smaller presence in Brazil, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.)

“The campaign in Bessemer has grabbed the globe’s imagination,” Hoffman says. “It is an inspiration to see workers in Amazon’s home country, in a hostile environment, stand up for change.”

In the United States, labor law largely favors employers, with rampant illegal infractions against collective bargaining rights common and punished by a slap on the wrist. Amazon has aggressively exploited this advantage to shut out unions, demanding nothing short of complete surrender from workers: “If workers became anything less than docile, managers were told, it was a sign there could be union activity,” according to a story in the New York Times. It doesn’t stop at union-busting. There’s also wage theft: Amazon was fined $61.7 million by the Federal Trade Commission for stealing tips from its drivers.

In Europe, Hoffman says, workers are covered by collective-bargaining agreements as part of sectoral bargaining, which enables unions to set standards for all employers in an industry, regardless of union membership at any one individual employer. But even with these safeguards in Europe, sectoral bargaining isn’t a panacea.

The Italian strike, for example, was mainly motivated to “[improve] the general working conditions of the subcontractors,” according to an email statement from Leopoldo Tartaglia, a representative of CGIL’s international department. Most subcontractors in Italy have union representation as part of national collective-bargaining agreements, but Amazon can still exploit loopholes, and self-employed drivers enter contractual relationships directly with Amazon.

“Amazon has always refused to discuss with unions the conditions of the subcontractors,” Tartaglia wrote.

The strike’s demands included a reduction in drivers’ workloads and hours, bargaining over shifts and scheduling, and compliance with pandemic-related health and safety regulations. The unions say 75% of Amazon’s 40,000 delivery workers in Italy participated (Amazon claims that figure was only 10%).

The strike snarled Amazon’s logistics operations, delayed deliveries for days and prompted the head of Italy’s Ministry of Labor and Social Policies to compel the company and the trade unions to negotiate.

Like Hoffman from the UNI Global Union, Tartaglia views organizing in the United States as critical to worker power at Amazon internationally. “International solidarity is in our DNA,” he wrote of Italy’s trade federations.

International efforts against Amazon have been building for some time. The UNI Global Union helped mobilize thousands of Amazon workers in four European countries to strike on Black Friday 2018. Like the workers in Alabama, their rallying cry was, “We are not robots!”

The grassroots organizing group Amazon Workers International, formed in 2015 in Germany, has brought workers together from six European Union countries. In 2020, under the banner of Make Amazon Pay, trade unions, warehouse workers and activists came together in an international coalition to coordinate strikes, work stoppages and protests in Bangladesh, India, Australia, Germany, Poland, Spain, France, the U.K. and the United States.

“Amazon is able to build power by operating on a global level without opposition,” Casper Gelderblom, a Dutch trade unionist with Make Amazon Pay, told The Intercept in the fall of 2020. “We have to match the transnational scope of its organization with an internationalist strategy.”

Organizing at Amazon’s 233 U.S. fulfillment, supplemental and return centers and 404 delivery stations was long nascent at best, giving Amazon an enormous buffer against international coordination. But the union drive in Bessemer, the first at an Amazon facility since 2014, may signal a tipping point.

Pandemic Pandemonium

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has begun conversations with Amazon delivery drivers around the country, as it considers Amazon a drastic threat to the union jobs of its 1.4 million members. In Iowa, Teamsters are organizing hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers at Amazon distribution centers in Grimes and Iowa City. To avoid a drawn-out union election, they are threatening strikes to gain recognition.

More than 1,000 Amazon workers reached out to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) seeking to organize in early 2021—galvanized by Bessemer—from Baltimore, New Orleans, Portland, Ore., Denver, Southern California and other localities. On Easter Sunday, 30 Amazon drivers in Rochester, N.Y., walked off the job.

“This is lighting a fuse, which I believe is going to spark an explosion of union organizing across the country, regardless of the results,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told the Associated Press.

Pandemic-motivated concerns also accelerated efforts to form worker committees, with organizing in Chicago and New York serving as two prominent examples of bottom-up resistance.

Amazonians United, an autonomous, worker-led collective, formed in Chicago during a struggle for access to drinking water and air conditioning at Amazon’s delivery station DCH1 in April 2019. Amazonians United then used the leverage created by the pandemic to win paid time off for part-time warehouse workers.

They won these victories through shop floor action. Workers occupied managers’ offices, walked off the job and coordinated a blockade in which a caravan of community supporters prevented delivery vans from leaving the warehouse.

“When I say victories,” says a Chicano organizer with Amazonians United who goes by the nickname Zama, “Amazon never acknowledges our organizing as the reason for why it is that they made any change.” The company’s usual response, according to Zama, is that it was a problem management already had planned to change. “But we know it’s due to our actions,” Zama says.

These worker actions, even if small and isolated for now at least, are threatening because they are ultimately about workers seizing control. Amazon’s model of maximizing profits at all costs depends on the total submission of its workforce, cheap labor and complete domination of the workplace.

“That kind of control is at the heart of the Amazon enterprise. The idea of surrendering it is the company’s greatest horror,” according to New York Times technology reporter David Streitfeld.

“We need more control over our work,” Zama says. “We need more say over how we do our work.”

He believes other Amazon warehouses can learn from the Chicago playbook of building up capacity to fight through small-issue campaigns, flexing their muscles to exert greater shop floor control. Through a sort of “propaganda of the deed,” workers across facilities in the United States have reached out for guidance, finding common cause with the workers in Chicago, and a shared experience of grueling working conditions.

“We’re sharing with fellow workers what we’re experiencing and how we’re resisting,” Zama says. These conversations, in turn, lead to organizing, or “guiding fellow workers [on] how to create basically their own Amazonians United at their own facility, through issue fights.”

In Queens, New York, Amazon worker Ira Pollock read news stories of Amazonians United in Chicago and Sacramento “fighting the boss to make changes in their warehouses.” Pollock and other workers formed an organizing committee and started using similar tactics, launching petitions for improvements on the job, marching on the boss to demand immediate changes, and building community to bind workers together as a fighting union. They staged two safety walkouts during the height of the pandemic and continue to organize new members.

The Queens workers were so effective that a former FBI agent attempted to intimidate and interrogate Amazon worker Jonathan Bailey, who led the walkouts.

Amazonians United has largely been focused on delivery centers—the last layover on a product’s trip from fulfillment center to customer delivery and the linchpin in Amazon’s last-mile logistics chain. Packages that arrive at a delivery station must be turned around the same day. Many are “cross-docked,” a model Amazon borrowed from Walmart, in which “goods move in one door and out another without being racked or stored,” as Kim Moody explains in The Cost of Free Shipping.

That last mile in the logistics chain represents a key site of disruption. Worker slowdowns and sabotage could throw the whole just-in-time delivery service into disarray.

“We are crucial to Amazon’s ability to deliver on its promises to its consumers,” Pollock says. “We have a decent amount of power in terms of whether or not it can fulfill those operations. So our goal is to use that power as workers to bring Amazon to the table and negotiate over our working conditions.

“We also recognize we can’t do it at just one warehouse. So we need to grow.”

The Power of a Click

Amazon has addicted its consumers to speedy fulfillment. More than 150 million people subscribe to Amazon Prime, jonesing for the convenience of one-day delivery.

One of them is former New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. In a 2008 panegyric, “Put Buyers First? What a Concept,” Nocera swoons over Amazon’s ability to deliver on-time packages Christmas Day. In a good set piece for workers to read aloud at picket lines, Nocera effusively reports on the company’s rush to replace a PlayStation 3, his son’s Christmas present, that went missing from his doorstep after delivery. He called Amazon customer service December 21, and workers delivered a “little Christmas miracle” Christmas Eve.

Let’s use Nocera’s order to illustrate how Amazon’s delivery network operates. We can follow the likely path of the PlayStation by drawing from the essays in The Cost of Free Shipping, edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese, which describes Amazon’s delivery process in detail.

After Nocera placed his Amazon Prime order, the delivery process kicked off at an Amazon fulfillment center, one of three basic categories of Amazon warehouses. At the fulfillment center, a worker picked the PlayStation and packed it into a box with a shipping label.

Then the box went to the next type of Amazon warehouse—a sortation center—where it was sorted. It was then transported to the third kind of Amazon warehouse, an Amazon delivery center, where the U.S. Postal Service took it the last mile to Nocera’s doorstep. Today, the package would more likely be delivered by Amazon Flex (independent contractors) or Amazon Delivery Service Partners (a third-party contractor that hires its own workers).

This delivery process relies on seamless, interlocking networks of warehouses and logistic operations.

“They’ve got to be able to fulfill these package orders to different parts of the country,” Joshua Brewer, RWDSU’s lead organizer, says about Amazon’s model. “It’s very similar to the automotive supply chains of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Those [plants] couldn’t afford to have kinks.”

Back in 1936, workers at General Motors recognized the leverage they had in Flint, Mich., and Cleveland, with a sit-down strike against the world’s largest company. GM, with 250,000 workers, was “not big but colossal,” according to Fortune magazine, which described the company as “the world’s most complicated and most profitable manufacturing enterprise.”

GM plants, like Amazon warehouses, were sites of dismal working conditions. “Where you used to be a man … now you are less than their cheapest tool,” one Chevrolet worker said.

“We didn’t even have time to go to the toilet … if there wasn’t anybody to relieve you,” one Buick worker complained.

Like Amazon, GM’s power seemed supreme. But organizers with the United Auto Workers (UAW) identified a key point of leverage: a vulnerability in the supply chain in Flint and Cleveland, where GM stamped out auto bodies and parts for Chevy, Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile.

“We knew that if we could tie up these two shops, then General Motors would come to a halt,” said Wyndham Mortimer, a leading UAW organizer.

The six-week sit-down concluded February 11, 1937, and brought GM to the bargaining table, setting the stage for the UAW to become one of the most powerful unions in the country.

The key, then, to defeating Amazon’s oppressive work system may very well rest on chokepoints like the delivery stations, where workers are as indispensable now as the autoworkers in Flint and Cleveland were 84 years ago.

But no single delivery station has the power to bring Amazon to a halt. Coordination across the United States and globally would be necessary. Some labor experts and organizers see a more recent precedent for this kind of coordination in the solidarity actions of dock workers’ unions.

“Just as the labor movement has been successful in organizing on the waterfront by employing internationalist strategies to slow the flow of marine cargo, similar strategies can block or delay the flow of Amazon deliveries,” according to Peter Olney, retired organizing director for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and union organizer Rand Wilson in The Cost of Free Shipping.

A 2000 strike by longshore workers in Charleston, S.C., offers an example. International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422 organized a picket in protest of a shipping line at the docks using non-union labor. The largely Black workforce faced off against state troopers who had helicopters and armored personnel. That battle drew support from longshore workers on the West Coast, who fundraised to free the jailed Charleston workers. And “that kind of solidarity effort caught the eyes of Spanish dockworkers,” recalls longshore worker Leonard Riley, now 68. “They said, ‘If their ships were [using] non-union labor in South Carolina, they weren’t going to unload them in Spain.’ ”

The solidarity action in Spain was decisive in the dock workers’ victory. They brought the rogue non-union shipping line back to the negotiating table.

“Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the major places that imported slaves,” Riley says, reflecting on the win. “We were once the cargo on those ships. But now we control the shipping on those ships—thanks to workers’ organizing.”

Internationalism and the disruption of delivery stations are complementary strategies. When German workers went on strike in 2013, for instance, Amazon opened three fulfillment centers across the border in Poland. To combat Amazon’s union-busting tactics, workers must leave Amazon no safe harbor to divide and exploit workers.

Delivering the Future

Sometimes, internationalism is built into the composition of the labor force itself. Just as Amazon moves around the world—threatening to conquer every node in the global supply chain and drive rivals out of business—so, too, have displaced workers moved with it. That highly mobile workforce Amazon helped create may very well lend strategic leverage for workers to unite and fight the hegemon.

Julián Andrés Marval Arrue, a native of Venezuela, began working for Amazon in 2012 in Germany as a “picker,” Amazon’s term for a warehouse worker who picks items from coded shelves and places them in a bin for shipping preparations. Marval Arrue worked alongside immigrants from Turkey, Russia, Pakistan and Poland. In Germany, he says, the workplace protections were strong and managers were forbidden from stringently enforcing productivity quotas.

But when Marval Arrue began working for Amazon in Spain in 2016, he encountered crushing workloads and abusive supervisors. One manager would “smash boxes if they weren’t prepared to his taste,” he says.

These experiences led Marval Arrue to become a union representative with Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras, or Workers’ Commissions, the largest trade union in Spain. He got involved in international solidarity forums with Amazon workers across Europe and the United States.

“To hear all those stories,” Marval Arrue says, reflecting on the struggles of his U.S. counterparts. “That there were double shifts, people weren’t given masks, no temperature checks, no disinfectant gel”—these gruesome realities drove home a unifying consensus, from Spain to the United States, that “one of the most profitable companies wouldn’t care about its workers.”

“[As long] as not all Amazon warehouses are unionized … the company takes advantage of that and does whatever they want with overtime, working schedules and over-demanding productivity rates,” Marval Arrue says.

“We never have to lose sight of what we can manage if we unite.”

Luis Feliz Leon
Pennsylvania Nurses Near Their Breaking Point - Brandee Brown and Chrissy Newton of Schuylkill Hospital Nurses United explore the challenges of collective bargaining during a global pandemic. Wed, 14 Apr 2021 13:51:00 -0500 On top of the typical stresses, intense work, and long hours common to the profession, nurses working at smaller hospitals in more remote parts of the country face many unique challenges. With fewer staff and 24-7 services, facilities like the two Lehigh Valley Health Network hospitals in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, rely on nurses, nursing assistants, and other staff to perform many jobs simultaneously with little rest. But when nurses begin to leave for better working conditions and the hospital does not replace them, those who remain are put under even more strain, which endangers them and their patients.

For workers with Schuylkill Hospital Nurses United, that's just the tip of the iceberg. In this episode, we talk with two Schuylkill County nurses, Brandee Brown and Chrissy Newton, and Seth Goldstein from the Office and Professional Employees International Union, about the day-to-day grind of working at small-town hospitals while also combatting union-busting and bad-faith bargaining from management at Lehigh Valley Health Network.

Maximillian Alvarez
Robert Reich: Don't Buy the GOP's Phony Anti-Corporate Turn - Republicans may lash out at Coca-Cola for being too "woke," but they have no interest in challenging big business' grip on our politics. Mon, 12 Apr 2021 16:23:00 -0500 For four decades, the basic deal between big American corporations and politicians has been simple. Corporations provide campaign funds. Politicians reciprocate by lowering corporate taxes and doing whatever else corporations need to boost profits.

The deal has proven beneficial to both sides, although not to the American public. Campaign spending has soared while corporate taxes have shriveled.

In the 1950s, corporations accounted for about 40 percent of federal revenue. Today, they contribute a meager 7 percent. Last year, more than 50 of the largest U.S. companies paid no federal income taxes at all. Many haven’t paid taxes for years.

Both parties have been in on this deal although the GOP has been the bigger player. Yet since Donald Trump issued his big lie about the fraudulence of the 2020 election, corporate America has had a few qualms about its deal with the GOP.

After the storming of the Capitol, dozens of giant corporations said they would no longer donate to the 147 Republican members of Congress who objected to the certification of Biden electors on the basis of the big lie.

Then came the GOP’s recent wave of restrictive state voting laws, premised on the same big lie. Georgia’s are among the most egregious. The chief executive of Coca Cola, headquartered in the peach tree state, calls those laws “wrong” and “a step backward.” The CEO of Delta Airlines, Georgia’s largest employer, says they’re “unacceptable.” Major League Baseball decided to relocate its annual All-Star Game away from the home of the Atlanta Braves.

These criticisms have unleashed a rare firestorm of anti-corporate Republican indignation. The senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, warns corporations of unspecified “serious consequences” for speaking out. Republicans are moving to revoke Major League Baseball’s antitrust status. Georgia Republicans threaten to punish Delta Airlines by repealing a state tax credit for jet fuel.

“Why are we still listening to these woke corporate hypocrites on taxes, regulations & antitrust?” asks Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Why? For the same reason Willy Sutton gave when asked why he robbed banks: That’s where the money is.

McConnell told reporters that corporations should “stay out of politics” but then qualified his remark: “I’m not talking about political contributions.” Of course not. Republicans have long championed “corporate speech” when it comes in the form of campaign cash – just not as criticism.

Talk about hypocrisy. McConnell was the top recipient of corporate money in the 2020 election cycle and has a long history of battling attempts to limit it. In 2010, he hailed the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling, which struck down limits on corporate political donations, on the dubious grounds that corporations are “people” under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

“For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process,” McConnell said at the time. Hint: He wasn’t referring to poor Black people.

It’s hypocrisy squared. The growing tsunami of corporate campaign money suppresses votes indirectly by drowning out all other voices. Republicans are in the grotesque position of calling on corporations to continue bribing politicians as long as they don’t criticize Republicans for suppressing votes directly.

The hypocrisy flows in the other direction as well. The Delta’s CEO criticized GOP voter suppression but the company continues to bankroll Republicans. Its PAC contributed $1,725,956 in the 2020 election, more than $1 million of which went to federal candidates, mostly to Republicans. Oh, and Delta hasn’t paid federal taxes for years.

Don’t let the spat fool you. The basic deal between the GOP and corporate America is still very much alive.

Which is why, despite record-low corporate taxes, congressional Republicans are feigning outrage at Joe Biden’s plan to have corporations pay for his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Biden isn’t even seeking to raise the corporate tax rate as high as it was before the Trump tax cut, yet not a single Republicans will support it.

A few Democrats, such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, don’t want to raise corporate taxes as high as Biden does, either. Yet almost two-thirds of Americans support the idea.

The basic deal between American corporations and American politicians has been a terrible deal for America. Which is why a piece of legislation entitled the “For the People Act,” passed by the House and co-sponsored in the Senate by every Democratic senator except Manchin, is so important. It would both stop states from suppressing votes and also move the country toward public financing of elections, thereby reducing politicians’ dependence on corporate cash.

Corporations can and should bankroll much of what America needs. But they won’t as long as corporations keep bankrolling American politicians.

This post first appeared on

Robert Reich
The Long Struggle Against Giving Up - The failed Amazon union drive in Alabama will be vindicated by history. Mon, 12 Apr 2021 06:37:00 -0500 Watching on Zoom late last week as an NLRB official spent hour after hour pulling paper ballots out of a cardboard box and hollering “NO” at high volume was excruciating. But it was not the most excruciating part of losing a big campaign like the Amazon union drive in Bessemer, Alabama. That would be right now, when the pundits descend to offer instant critiques of everything that went wrong, like fashion critics insulting what people are wearing to a funeral. Even as a pundit myself, the process is hard to watch.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the union organizing the Amazon warehouse, lost the vote by more than a 2-1 margin. After the extreme publicity of the campaign over the past couple of months, such a definitive loss was crushing. More importantly, the workers in Bessemer still do not have a union, and Amazon and the rest of the anti-union world gains the talking point that those workers do not want or need a union. The reality on the ground after the loss is bad, and the narrative it produces going forward is also bad. When any union undertakes an organizing drive, it is good to win, and bad not to. Of these things there can be no doubt.

But the Amazon campaign was extraordinary in so many ways that it needs to be seen in context, to avoid drawing all the wrong conclusions. The RWDSU’s attempt to organize more than 5,000 warehouse workers in the South—going up against the most deep-pocketed company imaginable—gained attention in the first place because it seemed so crazy. Everyone in the union world knew that every aspect of the situation—the size of the unit, the high turnover of the work, the fact that the job was considered a good one by local standards, the fact that it took place in a “right to work” state, the resources that Amazon could deploy against it, the fact that it was an attempt to crack an extremely tough union-free company—made success harder. From the beginning, every union veteran I spoke to about the campaign was hopeful, but skeptical it could succeed.

That conventional wisdom turned out to be true. Reality bites. Looking back on the organizing drive and saying the union should have used different tactics obscures the fact that this campaign, with a unit of that size, in Alabama, under the awful labor law regime that we have in America, probably was not winnable, at least not in the short time frame in which it happened. But that, in turn, obscures a more important fact: It’s good that this campaign happened.

Why would the RWDSU take up such a difficult effort in the first place? Because workers at the Amazon warehouse asked them to. There are many unions in this country that would have politely told those workers to fuck off. The RWDSU, though, tried. They spent many months and many millions of dollars and got the world to turn its attention to Bessemer. If they learned lessons about organizing tactics that could have been done differently, those lessons should be applied to the next campaign. Their effort should still be applauded. There are plenty of lazy people in the union establishment who would prefer to say that they should not be expected to do hard, audacious organizing, because it is a waste of time. They are wrong.

Some have said that this campaign, which received more press than any other union drive in many decades, was too media-focused. Though I fully endorse the idea that the media is annoying, this critique fails to understand the press did not cover this campaign because the union asked it to—we covered it because it had all of the ingredients of a great story. Readers, I can tell you from experience, want to read about labor battles at identifiable companies like Amazon much more than they want to read about labor battles anywhere else. An enormous union drive in an unlikely place full of scrappy, charismatic characters fighting the richest man in the country was going to get news coverage whether the union wanted it or not. It is more accurate to think of the press as an uncontrollable outside force to be managed rather than as an element of an organizing drive that a union can summon or shut down at will. The truth is that in almost every other case, the problem is that tough union drives get too little, not too much, coverage.

Amazon warehouse workers are the single most important segment of the American work force for unions to organize, because they are what the future of work looks like. The effort to unionize Amazon will take decades. We are at the beginning. The attention created by the drive in Bessemer caused hundreds of other Amazon workers across the country to reach out to the union. With luck, it will spawn ten or fifty or a hundred more organizing committees inside other Amazon warehouses. Some of those will die out, and some will build towards a real union campaign. That’s how the work goes. One of the warehouses that continues to organize should be the warehouse in Bessemer. They are probably closer to winning than any other warehouse in America. The loss that just happened was the first round of what will be a long fight.

Leaders of the civil rights movement would often show up in a Southern town, and spend months organizing. The press would show up too. The activists and the people would march, and get beaten up, and get arrested, and the local political establishment would denounce them, and after all that, no laws would change. Did that indicate that their movement had failed? No. They were engaged in individual battles in a war for justice that lasted many years. They, the activists of our parents' and grandparents’ generations, succeeded in their part of that war. Today we have our part. The labor movement, ground down for decades, must be at the center of this part of the war, which is a class war taking place after 40 years of widening inequality. The struggle of the labor movement today is not just against the bosses on the other side—it is also against the deadening forces of inertia inside unions, which makes many prefer to not even try.

I’m sorry that the Amazon workers did not win their union. I’m glad they tried. I’m glad for every single news story that came out of it. I’m glad for every single working person at every other shitty job who saw it and wondered if they might do something similar at their own workplace. I’m glad that millions of people watched all this happen. The only thing left to do now is to keep on going.

Hamilton Nolan
The Message from the Amazon Union Defeat in Alabama Is Clear: Keep Organizing - The union’s loss in Bessemer shows the urgent need for both labor law reform and organizing at a mass scale. Fri, 09 Apr 2021 11:23:00 -0500 On April 9, the National Labor Relations Board announced the results of a mail ballot certification election that concluded on March 29 for workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama. With 3,215 votes cast, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) was defeated with at least 1,608 votes against the union, enough to crush the drive. The result was not shocking given the millions of dollars that Amazon spent and its power inside the facility to pressure workers to vote against forming a union.

No matter how you spin it, the defeat is a significant blow to the multitude of organizing efforts occurring at Amazon. The election showed the clear limitations of pursuing union certification through a broken NLRB election process. However, due to the national attention and support that the campaign received, now more Amazon workers than ever are thinking about the possibility and potential of organizing. Hopefully, the campaign in Bessemer will encourage unions and workers throughout the company to consider alternative organizing strategies.

Despite the valiant efforts of the workers, Amazon—which has more resources than nearly any company in the world—was able to blunt their momentum through its anti-union campaign. As expected, management engaged in the usual one-on-one and captive audience meetings to persuade workers to vote “no.” But management went further, using a barrage of email, texting and social media posts and even luring unhappy workers to quit with cash buyouts, messages posted in bathroom stalls, and changing the timing of traffic signals to gain advantage. The loss confirms what many of us in the labor movement already know—the balance of power is completely out of whack in this country, with big corporations twisting the rules to stay in charge and keep workers’ voices silent.

But this is hardly the last word on organizing Amazon. Management's aggressive campaign illustrated to the whole country the need to fundamentally change the rules of the game so that workers everywhere can more easily form unions. The pressure on elected officials to enact long overdue labor law reform should increase.

The "BAmazon union" drive received more press and attention from the public than any other union election in recent memory. The focus on the campaign helped bring increased scrutiny to the reality of working conditions at Amazon—in Bessemer, across the country and around the world. Critical, in-depth reporting on the inner workings of Amazon increased as the drive gained national interest. For example, in February, The New York Times Magazine covered the community and labor organizing taking place in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, an important area to Amazon because of its proximity to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Washington Post (owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos), has run several excellent exposes of Amazon's anti-union conduct, including a March 9 story that reported: "Many of the 5,805 employees in Bessemer …receive four or five emails a day from the company to discourage unionization. …The company has pressed its anti-union case with banners at the warehouse and even fliers posted inside bathroom stalls." Labor Notes has already published more than 20 articles about working conditions and labor organizing at Amazon, and there were dozens of reports in all major news outlets leading up to the vote count.

Public support from other labor unions, community groups and elected officials has also been impressive. On February 20, and again on March 20, dozens of actions took place nationwide in support of the Bessemer workers. The call for those actions went out from the Southern Workers Assembly, an organization founded in 2012 by veteran labor and Black Workers for Justice organizers. On March 2, the organization issued a statement summarizing its view of the importance of the organizing in Bessemer:

"The Bessemer workers launched their campaign at a time of increasing repressive government and the rise of a racist and divisive social movement that threatened to turn back the clock on basic democratic rights. Like the 1955, Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott during a similar repressive and divisive period, the Bessemer Amazon workers led by the 80-percent Black and women majority and the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), stepped forward."

Why is it so hard to form a union?

The attention to Bessemer, and the extent that Amazon has interfered in the workers' decision, has illustrated our broken labor relations system. Free choice by workers to form a union has turned into a corporate obstacle course where workers are subjected to both one-on-one and captive audience meetings, along with constant pressure via email, texts, social media, and physical postings—even in company bathrooms.

A far simpler way for workers to gain union certification and their collective bargaining rights is through a procedure called "card check." If a simple majority of workers sign cards authorizing a union to be their representative, then their employer would be compelled to recognize and negotiate with the union that workers chose. This provision was part of the 2009 Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that, despite Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, died during President Obama's first term. Unfortunately, card check isn't part of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) now pending in Congress. Although the PRO Act passed the House with bipartisan support, unless the Senate changes the rules around the filibuster, the bill faces an uphill battle.

On February 28, President Biden gave a powerful endorsement of the union effort in Bessemer. While not mentioning Amazon by name, his support for the union drive couldn't have been clearer. This was an unprecedented move. Labor activists have long dreamed of a contemporary president mimicking what President Franklin D. Roosevelt was reputed to have said in the 1930s: "The President wants you to join a union." But it turns out that this history is actually a myth. Roosevelt never said such words in a fireside chat or in writing. John L. Lewis, the Mineworker leader and other CIO organizers just repeated it over and over until it became part of labor folklore. Biden's speech was a reflection of the debt he owes to the labor movement for his narrow win in November 2020, and of the growing favorability towards unions—48% of workers now say they would join a union if given the opportunity.

RWDSU's effort at Bessemer was unexpected. It appears that not even its parent union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, was aware of the drive until the NLRB made the election filing public on November 20, 2020. However, successfully organizing workers at a company like Amazon with 1.3 million employees and hundreds of fulfillment centers, sortation centers and delivery stations in the United States will require the massive resources of far more than one union. It also will necessitate the internal organizing efforts of tens of thousands of workers in networks like Amazonians United, which describes itself as: "A movement of workers fighting to end management's domination in our workplaces. We organize with our coworkers to fight together for the dignified lives we all deserve."

Internal organizing alone will still be insufficient. Community support is essential to create a supportive context for workers to take on their employer. Amazon workers received strong support from worker and community coalitions like the Southern Workers Assembly, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and the political support of elected officials like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and many more. While the national support from celebrities and political leaders is welcome, it's even more important to have the community's civic and religious leaders and local elected officials in your corner.

Amazon's business model is particularly challenging for organizers. With its inventory system and use of state of the art robots, a job that took 60 to 75 minutes can now be done in 15 minutes, and its warehouses can now hold 40 percent more inventory. The "random chaos" that Amazon uses to fulfill consumer orders creates built-in redundancy in its distribution network. Worker organization and actions at one isolated facility can be countered by shifting logistics to run work around that facility or simply closing it altogether. There's nothing new about companies avoiding a problem union or an upstart workforce—UPS and other shippers have been doing it for decades. It will take many more drives like that in Bessemer—at points all along the Amazon delivery chain—to give workers the confidence and means to fight for their rights and win good wages and working conditions.

None of these caveats should detract from the significance of this drive. Bessemer takes its name from the steel production process pioneered in Birmingham, England—the home of the modern steel industry and the name of the Alabama city next door which has historically been a mining and steel production center with considerable union density. While RWDSU was guarded about the degree of internal organization, there is a considerable organic connection between its sizable poultry processing membership in Alabama (about 6,000 members) and the largely African-American Amazon Bessemer workforce. To RWDSU's credit, the organizing drive ranks among the largest single organizing efforts in the history of the American South.

Going forward, we are likely to see more unions joining in the effort to organize Amazon. The Teamsters have already begun building rank and file awareness with its UPS membership about the threat that Amazon poses to its contract standards with the hope that members will assist a broad campaign. It's already resulted in local unions hearing from Amazon workers interested in joining. For many years now, the Service Employee International Union has supported the Awood Center which assists immigrants organizing at Amazon in the Twin Cities region. Now, RWDSU has entered the field in Alabama and gained many organizing leads at other facilities to follow up on. Aside from unions, Athena—a network of over 50 non-profits, worker centers and labor unions—is playing a high-profile role in the policy and legislative arenas advocating for Amazon workers and the communities impacted by its business. And Amazonians United has emerged as a burgeoning network of in-plant organizers dedicated to building strong workplace committees. A confluence of all of these forces, and much more, will be required to seriously take on Amazon.

The workplace focus is key. And the newfound focus on organizing in the South will remain crucial. Saladin Muhammad, a retired UE organizer and leader of the Southern Workers Assembly, commented on this dynamic on March 11:

"There is a recognition that the South needs to be organized as a part of building a stronger labor movement throughout the US. For a long time, the confidence of the working class in the South and the effort to organize has been very weak. Attempts to unionize the Volkswagen and Nissan plants in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Canton, Mississippi, are indications of organized labor's recognition of the importance of organizing core industries in the South. This is a recognition that has not really existed probably since Operation Dixie in the late 1940s. …I think it is drawing even more attention than the Volkswagen and the Nissan campaigns. It has the opportunity to deepen the struggle around race as a part of the working-class struggle. I think there are some real possibilities with this campaign."

Despite losing the election, there needs to be continued focus on building solidarity with the workers in Bessemer. Management should be held accountable to the promises it made to deter support for collective bargaining and the key union leaders need to be protected from any retaliation for their efforts to support the union. RWDSU will hopefully stick with the workers in Bessemer and create a durable organization inside the facility. Then, building on its first effort, it could seek a second certification election which history shows have a much better success rate.

Solidarity on a national level was impressive. Organizations like the Working Families Party and Our Revolution that stepped up during the campaign will be needed to help connect the Amazon workers’ struggles to other movements for justice.

And groups like DSA will be crucial to supporting young cadres who take jobs at Amazon and want to help organize from within, either through Amazonians United or a specific union. The setback in Bessemer shows that without deep internal organizing and base-building, no amount of external agitation and support can overcome the power of a corporate behemoth like Amazon. Workers need to be steeled in the experience of confronting their supervisors on the warehouse floor, marching on the boss in the front office—and walking out when necessary—in order to prepare themselves to win a battle for union recognition. It is poetic that on the day before votes began to be counted in Bessemer, workers at an Amazon Chicago-area delivery station, "DIL 3" in Gage Park, staged a one day walk-out against the new "megacycle" schedules being imposed on delivery station employees.

If we are serious about organizing at Amazon, we have to redefine what "winning" means. If it's about one election or even one contract, we are in for some serious disappointment. Instead, it must be about the uprising of tens of thousands of workers supported by unions and community groups and backed up by elected officials willing to use the levers of government to the workers' advantage.

One concrete step towards building that movement would be better coordination and unity among the logistics and transportation unions, especially the Teamsters, the longshore unions, and the railroad craft unions. Better results can also be achieved by strengthening the cooperation between in-plant worker organizing by groups like Amazonians United, formations like the Southern Workers Assembly, and the multiple labor unions that are prepared to assist. As the political and regulatory context for Amazon evolves, the workers' movement should also anticipate—and where possible lead—major structural reforms to Amazon's business model.

The lopsided defeat of the Bessemer workers' organizing effort is not the first setback for labor at Amazon, and it won't be the last. The lessons from Amazon organizing initiatives—including the Bessemer drive and workplace actions—should be carefully analyzed and catalogued in a searchable format for future reference. As Amazon workers' level of militancy and organization grows, our challenge is to make sure that each action strengthens the movement and builds workers' confidence in the power of collective action. That's what inspires workers to "ditch the fear" and expand their on-the-job support for unions.

Despite the outcome at Bessemer, the organizing campaign has already made a major contribution to public perceptions about Amazon and the urgent need for labor law reform. Amazon workers' struggle for dignity and justice is only getting started.

Rand Wilson and Peter Olney
On the Picket Line With Striking Miners - Union organizer Jacob Morrison and musician Lee Baines III offer their solidarity to members of the United Mine Workers of America. Thu, 08 Apr 2021 18:32:00 -0500 Last Thursday, around 1,100 coal miners at Warrior Met Coal in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, went on strike. According to the union, the United Mine Workers of America, a tentative bargaining agreement has now been reached with the company, but workers must still vote on whether or not to ratify it.

In order to cover this important strike and spread these workers' stories, we've teamed up with our brothers-in-arms Jacob Morrison, a union organizer and cohost of the outstanding Valley Labor Report, Alabama's only weekly labor radio talk show, and the incredible musician Lee Bains III of The Glory Fires. Jacob and Lee went down to the Warrior Met Coal picket line this weekend to talk with striking miners, play some music, and show solidarity. In this special episode, we've compiled clips from Lee's live performance as well as Jacob's interviews on the picket line and at the local UMWA union hall.

Maximillian Alvarez
CO2 Now at Levels Unseen in 3.6 Million Years - Despite pandemic shutdowns, the NOAA warns that carbon dioxide and methane "continued their unrelenting rise in 2020." Thu, 08 Apr 2021 16:33:00 -0500 U.S. government scientists warned Wednesday that despite temporary drops in planet-heating emissions due to shutdowns triggered by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, "levels of the two most important anthropogenic greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, continued their unrelenting rise in 2020."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also said that the global surface average for carbon dioxide (CO2) last year was 412.5 parts per million (PPM), among the highest rates of increase ever documented since the federal agency started keeping records over six decades ago.

At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the annual mean was 414.4 ppm in 2020.

The figures likely would have been higher if the pandemic hadn't happened, according to Pieter Tans, senior scientist at NOAA's Global Monitoring Lab (GML), which measures carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide from observatories in Alaska, American Samoa, Hawaii, and the South Pole.

"The economic recession was estimated to have reduced carbon emissions by about 7% during 2020," the agency explained. "Without the economic slowdown, the 2020 increase would have been the highest on record."

According to NOAA, "Carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years."

NOAA's 2020 findings came after activists and experts responded with alarm to the concentration of atmospheric CO2 surging past 420 PPM for the first time in recorded history over the weekend. Youth climate leader Greta Thunberg of the Fridays for Future movement said that if that data from Hawaii is confirmed, "it is truly groundbreaking to say the least."

Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of the GML, echoed campaigners' calls for climate action that followed the latest reading.

"Human activity is driving climate change," Sweeney said. "If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it's going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuels emissions to near zero—and even then we'll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere."

However, it's not just energy policies that need an overhaul. NOAA found that last year saw "a significant jump in the atmospheric burden of methane, which is far less abundant but 28 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat over a 100-year time frame."

The agency noted that preliminary analysis "indicates that it is likely that a primary driver of the increased methane burden comes from biological sources of methane such as wetlands or livestock rather than thermogenic sources like oil and gas production and use."

Still, GML research chemist Ed Dlugokencky said that "although increased fossil emissions may not be fully responsible for the recent growth in methane levels, reducing fossil methane emissions are an important step toward mitigating climate change."

Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), tweeted that the"worrying new data" from NOAA demonstrate that climate action "cannot be put on the back burner any longer."

Reporting Thursday on NOAA's new research, CBS News pointed out:

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego released similar findings Wednesday, saying their measurements showed atmospheric CO2 levels to be 417.4 PPM at their monitoring station in Hawaii. Scripps noted that this puts atmospheric CO2 levels 50% higher than they were just prior to the industrial revolution.

Scripps also noted that the amount of CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere is accelerating. "It took over 200 years for levels to increase by 25%, but now just over 30 years later, levels are at a 50% increase," the institution said. Should the current trends continue, it predicts that CO2 levels will be twice as high as pre-industrial levels in about 55 years.

Late last year, the UNEP released a report showing that while the world is headed for a temperature rise over 3°C this century—well beyond the 2015 Paris agreement's 2°C and 1.5°C targets—a green recovery from the pandemic could cut projected emissions for the next decade by about 25%.

Despite that report and others displaying the necessity of ambitious climate action, U.N. Climate Change concluded in February that national emissions reduction plans—which parties to the agreement are updating ahead of a November summit—are nowhere near where they need to be to meet the Paris goals.

This story was first published at Common Dreams.

Jessica Corbett
Is the Biden Administration Quietly Pursuing an Imperialist Foreign Policy? - Pulitzer-winning author Greg Grandin explores how the State Department has adopted a "sleeper Monroe Doctrine" in Latin America. Thu, 08 Apr 2021 14:08:00 -0500 On March 27, President Joe Biden's Secretary of State Tony Blinken issued a curious tweet. "We are deeply concerned by growing signs of anti-democratic behavior and politicization of the legal system in Bolivia," he wrote. "The Bolivian government should release detained former officials, pending an independent and transparent inquiry into human rights and due process concerns."

Blinken's remark, which went virtually unchallenged in United States media, cast as illegitimate the Bolivian government's decision to jail former de facto President Jeanine Áñez and members of her regime for their role in a 2019 coup that left dozens dead and hundreds more injured. More crucially, it offered a window into the Biden administration's foreign policy—not only in its own backyard but across the globe.

For much of the 20th century, the United States used Latin America as a laboratory to develop its tools of colonial rule: annexation, military intervention, clandestine and paramilitary warfare, kidnapping and so-called "extraordinary rendition." Most Latin Americans are intimately familiar with this history, even as the full extent of U.S. intervention in the region is still coming to light.

The overthrow of socialist governments in Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973), has been well-documented, for example, but newly declassified State Department memos reveal that U.S. diplomats in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were aware a coup d'etat was imminent in 1976, and that the severity of the military's repression would be "unprecedented." (The Argentinian junta would rule for seven years, killing or disappearing as many as 30,000 people.)

This kind of subterfuge enabled the United States to forge a Pax Americana that was never all that peaceful and has ultimately proven unsustainable. Today, the imperial lab is in disarray; the machines have malfunctioned (or ceased to function at all), and the floor managers have gone raving mad. Even as the United States is reckoning with decades of imperial violence in the form of mass migrations along its Southern border, the Biden administration wants to limit Latin American trade with China while simultaneously refusing to end patent protections for urgently needed Covid-19 vaccines in the Global South.

As Greg Grandin, Pulitzer-winning author of the newly republished Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism acknowledges, Latin America is no longer a workshop for American empire. What's more, the United States has become a refuge from its own failed experiments.

On the anniversary of the 1976 coup in Buenos Aires—March 24, marked as a day of remembrance in Argentina—and subsequently via email, I spoke with Grandin about President Biden's possible imperial ambitions, the legacy of former President Donald Trump and the limits of the liberal imagination. The following transcript has been edited and compressed for clarity.

Maria Esperanza Casullo: In pushing for more radical policies, President Biden appears to have come to power with a very clear understanding of where Obama failed domestically. At the same time, he seems eager to show that he's as strong abroad as he is at home. What do you see in the first months of his administration?

Greg Grandin: I think the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill and the forthcoming infrastructure bill are clear indications that the Biden administration has moved beyond the austerity paradigm. When it comes to foreign policy, however, it's not just more of the same—it's worse.

While the Biden administration's unexpectedly hardline stance against China has made the news, it's also pursued something like a sleeper Monroe Doctrine in Latin America, carrying forward many of Trump's worst policies. These include recognizing an alt-president in Venezuela, chastising Bolivia for trying to hold those responsible for the recent coup and repression legally accountable, and toying with the idea of filling in the gaps of Trump's border wall. Clearly, Biden and his close counselors are betting that by giving the foreign policy "blob" what it wants, it can break domestic policy free of austerity restraints. It's a dangerous game.

MEC: From reading Empire's Workshop, it seems as though any time the United States is facing an internal crisis, it encourages Latin America to become more democratic. So after World War II and again in the 1980s, Latin America takes the United States at its word and begins developing its own forms of social democracy.

But at some point, the United States steps in and says, "You've gone too far, you've fallen into the populism trap." Reformists like President Getulio Vargas in Brazil during the 1950s were doing what they were told, and they were punished for it. The same can be said for the pink wave of center-left governments in the 2000s that included Lula Da Silva in Brazil and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.

GG: Whenever the United States tries to go global and has a crisis of imperial overreach, it turns to Latin America to regroup. Then it goes global again, and the cycle begins anew. The Pan-America Conference of 1933 kicked off a period in which communist parties basically aligned with the United States, culminating with the allied victory in World War II. It seemed a new world of democracy—specifically social democracy—was dawning, and there was widespread support for it across the political spectrum.

Between 1946 and 1948, however, there was a backlash. And that obviously corresponds to U.S. involvement in the Cold War. Where the State Department previously saw democracy and development going hand in hand, it came to view stability and development as the antidotes to communism and the Soviet Union.

Europe didn't have to suppress its social democratic Left to capitalize its industry. So long as they weren't allied with the Soviet Union, parties could organize unions, demand better wages, and help socialize spheres of the economy. Latin America didn't have that luxury because elites had to attract private capital and loans. They had to put down unions, so there's this sharp turn to the right. By 1948, the continent is once again under the heel of dictatorships, and there's a cycle of coups and crackdowns that radicalizes whole generations in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

MEC: Do you think the United States is—or will be—focusing again on Latin America now that it's facing another crisis of hegemony?

GG: The short answer to your question, which I explore some in this new edition of the book, is that it's too early to tell. What's clear is that the United States is in a state of decline that may be irreversible, and it no longer has the power to use the promise of limitlessness to organize its domestic politics. That much is evident in the incoherence of its Latin America policy now. This is where I close: Latin America is no longer the "workshop." Now, the United States is exporting its craziness.

During the 1980s, the extremists that made up the New Right coalition came together in Central America and they were as "out there" as QAnon, in many ways. They were as conspiratorial as the 16th-century Catholics who thought they were involved in an end-time struggle to bring about God's realm. But what you have today are the same forces that are leading to the disintegration of political consensus domestically—the extreme libertarianism, extreme corporate power, a kind of unhinged Christian nationalism—being re-exported to Latin America.

Before he went to war with Iraq in 1991, President George H.W. Bush invaded Panama and installed a democracy. That became his stepping-stone to moving out globally. By contrast, Trump was all over the place, supporting an intervention in Venezuela at the same time that he was threatening Iran.

And now we see the Biden administration doing the same kind of saber-rattling with China. Over the past few weeks, China has become a subject of extreme moralizing for U.S. political elites. In the past, the United States wouldn't have done that until Latin America was secured. And Latin America is not secured. Central America and Mexico are in crisis, which manifests itself on the border. In Brazil, Bolsonaro is some kind of mirror image of Trump. It's a mess.

MEC: That is really striking. And as a Latin American, U.S. foreign policy in the region feels increasingly incomprehensible. That's not only true of the Trump administration but the last years of the Obama administration as well. Many of us opposed Ronald Reagan, but we could acknowledge he had a clear policy that served a strategic purpose.

GG: It was coherent.

MEC: And during the H.W. Bush years, of course, Latin America was largely absent because U.S. attention was elsewhere. It's not clear what that strategy is anymore. The United States has been fixated on Venezuela, but it doesn't have any idea of how to effect the change it seeks. Instead, it funds these adventures that seem to go nowhere.

The Left populism in Latin America has also shown itself to be remarkably resilient. After Vargas committed suicide in 1954, there was almost nothing left of his movement in Brazil, yet the Workers' Party is still a force today and [Founding Workers' Party member] Lula is back. In Bolivia, the socialist MAS party has returned to power. [Left-wing] Kircherism remains a force in Argentina. Efforts to crush these political ideologies have failed, so what is the plan now? There doesn’t seem to be any kind of discernible strategy.

GG: I think that's absolutely correct. The Biden administration continues to recognize Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela based on who knows what. It doesn't even correspond to the reality of the country's own opposition, which is totally fractured. And why Venezuela? Why not Cuba? It makes no sense.

I think what we're seeing is the piling up of decades of militarized securitization, extractivism and free market policy, to say nothing of the blowback to the genocide and repression of the 1980s. It's all created societies that are simply unsustainable, so people feel they have to leave.

Nobody puts a child in a boat unless their land is unsafe. Nobody sends their kid on a 1,000-mile trek unless they have no chance of living at home. And yet there's no recognition of this by the U.S. foreign policy elites. They just can't think holistically about these problems. It's beyond their realm.

The only thing they can think to propose is Plan Colombia, which has become an all-purpose solution for Latin America. Of course, Plan Colombia led to huge increases in regional drug production and political violence, so it was a failure on its own terms and won't work now. The United States talks about spending more on development, but all that it's interested in doing is liberalizing these countries' economies and driving people off of their land. And where are they going to go?

Obama was a perfect example. His presidency was a missed opportunity on so many profound levels, and I think the American Left understands this. He could have radically reoriented American foreign policy like FDR before him, but Obama chose not to. At one point, almost every country in South America had some kind of leftist government or another. There was Lula, who was a trade unionist. The Peronists in Argentina. Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, who was a liberation theologian. Chile's president was a feminist doctor. Even Hugo Chavez [in Venezuela] was eager to welcome Obama as a champion of civil rights and anti-racism in the United States. And Obama completely capitulated to coups or soft coups in countries like Brazil, Paraguay and Honduras.

I wrote about this in the Nation, but Obama spoke about the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff [in Brazil], and then the prosecution of Lula, in the same way he would ultimately talk about the election of Trump—that the institutions are strong, and we that we have to have patience. In this way, Obama's acceptance of the Brazilian coup presaged his acceptance of the Trumpian backlash against him. But to say the Obama presidency was a missed opportunity is probably an understatement. It would also be giving him a lot of leeway in what his true intentions were. He had the chance to do something radically different.

MEC: And now there's this idea that the United States has to go back to Africa and Latin America to position itself for a new Cold War. I think Latin America, by and large, is willing to do business with anybody, but there's not any kind of pro-China sentiment. The United States comes across as deeply paranoid about Chinese involvement in the region.

GG: Even the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the free trade agreement that Obama wanted to enact and the Trump administration ultimately killed, was part of a broader U.S. effort to keep China out of Latin America and dividing Latin America from the Pacific Rim.

MEC: Much of my work has been devoted to populism and how populist discourse requires an adversary. After four years of statements from Trump like "they're not sending their best," and the constant fearmongering about the border and migrant caravans, does the United States now see Latin America as an external threat? It just seems inconceivable that anyone could have thought this 60 years ago. Not because Americans necessarily believe Latinos are great people, but because they pose no threat whatsoever.

GG: I think even more dangerous than treating Latin America as an enemy is resorting to a strategy that is the hallmark of all empires that are hemorrhaging moral authority—which is to divide and rule. I don't want to give the United States too much credit, but one of the reasons why Latin America hasn't had an interstate war is because, as a dominant hegemon, the United States has avoided playing one country or region against another. That might be changing as Colombia becomes a local proxy, but we'll see.

There are so many currents swirling around that it's hard to predict anything, but I think the fusion of state developmentalism with new social movements in Latin America has been much more resilient than the post-war model in which peasants and unions were vertically tied to populist parties, and much more rigidly dependent on them. If a coup happened or the leader was overthrown, the whole model collapsed.

MEC: Both my dissertation and my book are about the real political innovations that are taking place in the region. That doesn't mean they've all been fantastic, and some have ended badly—like Venezuela, no doubt about it. But new political identities and movements have been constructed where they haven't as easily in the United States for some reason. Why do you think that is?

GG: I think part of that has to do with the unique nature of American empire and how much social progress correlated with expansion or the promise of expansion. There was no expansion of liberalism in the United States that wasn't conditioned on growing American power abroad. I don't want to suggest there isn't an organized Left in the United States, but progressive liberals just can't imagine any kind of domestic good without the existence of a foreign adversary or another to justify its funding.

María Esperanza Casullo
The Movement to End At-Will Employment Is Getting Serious - Unlike much of the world, the U.S. doesn’t ensure “just cause” employment. This coalition in Illinois hopes to change that. Tue, 06 Apr 2021 14:03:00 -0500 On March 31, a group of worker centers, unions, community groups and policy organizations in Illinois officially formed a new coalition, Stable Jobs Now, that aims to dramatically shift the power balance between workers and bosses by eliminating “at-will” employment—the practice that allows employers to fire their employees on a whim.

In most of the rest of the world, workers are protected by the “just cause” principle, which says they can only be terminated for legitimate, documented reasons connected to poor job performance. But in the United States, the at-will doctrine allows bosses to arbitrarily fire employees for any reason or no reason whatsoever, with the burden of proving it was an unlawful dismissal placed on the worker.

“It’s like we’re disposable to them,” said Estrella Hernandez, who was abruptly fired from her stitching job at a Chicago-area factory in December 2020. “I got to work one morning at 4am and the supervisor told me I couldn’t be there, that they had let me go the day before… I asked the reason and they said they didn’t have to tell me and told me to just go home.”

Hernandez believes she was fired as illegal retaliation for raising concerns about the inability to practice social distancing in her cramped work area, but she can’t prove it, especially since her employer never provided a reason for her dismissal.

Predominantly Black and Latino workers in Chicago’s low-wage jobs routinely face illegal retaliation for reporting workplace injustices like unsafe conditions, wage theft, injuries, sexual harassment and discrimination. The at-will doctrine makes it practically impossible for employees to prove they were fired as retaliation for speaking up against illegal abuses.

A new study published by Raise the Floor Alliance, a group of Chicago worker centers, and the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that 37 percent of Illinois workers have been fired for an unfair reason and 42 percent have been terminated for no reason at all, with Black and Latino workers the most likely to be fired. A third of those who faced unfair discharge say it was over raising concerns about problems on the job.

“While conditions were bad for working people well before the pandemic, this past year has highlighted and exacerbated these conditions,” said Sophia Zaman, executive director of Raise the Floor Alliance.

The Stable Jobs Now coalition is pushing for passage of the Secure Jobs Act, a bill recently introduced in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly. The legislation would make Illinois the second state to adopt a just cause system. Only Montana currently restricts at-will employment, a law dating back to 1987.

Among other measures, the Secure Jobs Act would lay out valid reasons for termination, grant workers a fair chance to improve their job performance before being fired, prohibit “constructive discharge” where employers pressure workers into resigning by creating a hostile work environment, outlaw “Do Not Hire” lists (a practice prevalent in the temp industry), and allow workers to accrue severance pay that employers would have to disburse upon termination. The law would be enforced by the Illinois Department of Employment Security, but would also permit fired workers to sue their employers under a private right of action.

“At-will employment has been a longstanding problem in the state and at-will termination has long endangered the stability of our communities,” said State Rep. Carol Ammons, the Secure Jobs Act’s chief sponsor in the Illinois House of Representatives. Ammons previously spearheaded a successful legislative effort to enshrine more rights for temp workers in Illinois.

The new campaign in Illinois is part of a budding national movement to end the at-will employment system. In the past two years, Philadelphia and New York City have both enacted just cause bills covering parking lot attendants and fast-food workers, respectively.

“This cries out for a signature federal bill, however long it takes to pass,” said Shaun Richman, an In These Times contributor and advocate for a national just cause rule. “In the absence of that, you’ve got these sort of rebel cities and blue states that are introducing their own bills as signal efforts.”

“This movement is still at an early stage, perhaps where the Fight for $15 or the paid sick days movements were a decade ago, which is why the work being done here in Illinois is so important and exciting,” explained NELP senior researcher and policy analyst Irene Tung.

Proposals to enact just cause laws are widely popular, with a recent poll finding that 67 percent of likely voters support the idea.

“At-will isn’t a law anyone voted for, it was just made up by judges in the 19th century,” Richman said. “Let’s actually have a vote on this. Let’s put this to the people.”

Traditionally, U.S. employers only have to follow just cause rules in workplaces governed by union contracts, but only 11 percent of the national workforce is currently unionized. Several unions have joined the Stable Jobs Now coalition, including the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU Healthcare, SEIU Local 73, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, Cook County College Teachers Union, and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America.

Coalition organizers say they are also in communication with the Illinois AFL-CIO. The state labor federation supported a similar wrongful discharge bill in 2017, but so far has not endorsed the Secure Jobs Act and did not respond to In These Times’ requests for comment.

“The American labor movement has this weird, total exception to the rule that we base this right in collective bargaining,” Richman said. “It’s time to get over that. This really should just be a law. It sucks up so much time in collective bargaining. Also, workers know they will be fired for organizing a union. Let’s make it a law that you can’t be fired unless it’s for a good reason, and then we’ll get more unions.”

Importantly, the Secure Jobs Act includes a provision that would restrict bosses from using data gathered through electronic monitoring to make decisions around discipline or dismissal, instead limiting such decisions only to human-based information. The new study by NELP and Raise the Floor Alliance found that 52 percent of Illinois workers are observed, recorded, or tracked at work through various forms of surveillance technology.

Delivery driver Jesus Ruelas told In These Times that he was fired by Amazon last year partly because he had a low score on Mentor, an app he said the company uses to monitor “how fast we’re driving, if we’re reversing, how fast we’re turning, how hard we’re braking, and whether we’re putting a seatbelt on.”

Amazon drivers nationwide complain that Mentor often provides glitchy, inaccurate, or misleading data that doesn’t take real-world conditions into account—leading to unfair discipline and discharge.

“The app just records what you do, it’s not advanced enough to know if you’re doing it for a reason. If you brake on a slick road, it records that as a negative thing,” Ruelas said. “Amazon will let you go for anything they can think of.”

The proposed legislation is certain to face opposition from employer groups, but since 2019, the Illinois General Assembly has managed to pass a host of progressive reforms, including a $15-an-hour minimum wage, legalization of recreational marijuana and abolition of cash bail.

“At its core, this is a racial justice and economic justice issue that can no longer be ignored,” said State Sen. Celina Villanueva, the bill’s chief sponsor in the Illinois Senate. “We have to catch up with the rest of the world and end this perverse and broken system that seeks to subjugate workers.”

Jeff Schuhrke
Politics Are Momentarily Weird Enough to Take On Global Capitalism - A global minimum corporate tax could have some crossover appeal. Tue, 06 Apr 2021 10:03:00 -0500 For most countries, trying to successfully tax multinational corporations in the age of global capital is like trying to fight a nuclear superpower’s army with a local militia: It’s a mismatch. Companies with armies of accountants and a relaxed metaphysical understanding of the concept of “location” can shop for international tax havens at their leisure, pitting countries against one another to the benefit of the private investment class. In the face of this status quo, the Biden administration’s new proposal for a global minimum corporate tax rate of 21% is a desperately needed tool for curbing our descent into irreversible inequality. And our current political moment may be just bizarre enough for it to actually come to pass.

Everyone thinks tax policy is one of the most complicated things in the world, but the truth is that a child could figure out the basics. Various countries around the world are tax havens. Tons of companies pull off legal trickeries that allow them to “locate” their “operations” there in order to minimize their taxes. Global corporations and their investors get richer. Governments lose billions of dollars. And the entire concept of democratic control of capitalism is undermined. If there were a single minimum tax rate that companies were forced to pay no matter what country they operated in, it would eliminate the incentive for this entire absurd accounting charade. It would also restore some credibility to the idea that governments should be allowed to tax and regulate economic activity, rather than having governments act as beggars in a world controlled by powerful corporations whose interests must be catered to in a global race to the bottom.

In 2017, the economist Gabriel Zucman estimated that the United States loses “close to $70 billion a year in tax revenue due to the shifting of corporate profits to tax havens,” which amounts to nearly a fifth of all corporate tax revenue. This is the global version of a company forcing multiple states to bid with lavish tax incentives in order to attract a new factory or headquarters. The state (or country) willing to give away the most—to allow the maximum amount of power and money to be retained in private hands—”wins” the business, but the public, in aggregate, loses. If Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s proposal to set a 21% minimum rate in more than 100 countries comes to pass, it will end the tax haven-shopping, to the benefit of governments everywhere. Corporations, which are algorithms designed to maximize profit, will surely fight it. But if it's enacted, they will get a benefit too: the ability to make global business decisions for rational business reasons, rather than for the purpose of seeking the lowest tax rate in a worldwide scavenger hunt. I’m sure the Cayman Islands are nice and all, but I bet that all those global corporations have business to do in bigger countries, too.

This sort of coordinated global government action against the power of capital occupies an interesting political space. It is either a foolish and threatening utopian socialist dream, or an utterly practical necessity, depending on your perspective. Even the most hardened pro-business legislators have an interest in seeing something like this tax enacted, because its most important purpose is simply to restore some of the balance of power between government and private capital. The only thing that Republicans hate more than the dirty socialists who want to regulate business is business so powerful that it has no need to listen to politicians—including Republicans.

In fact, the ongoing fad of Republicans adopting faux-populist personas in order to punish companies for being “woke” could serve to make them more receptive to this sort of global taxation. (It should go without saying that everything about this dynamic, from the predatory mega-corporations posing as social justice advocates to the craven business-funded Republicans acting as though some sort of concern for regular people compels them to object to anodyne statements from those corporations, is utterly hypocritical. Still, this hypocrisy could be weaponized for a noble goal.) Just this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell threatened “serious consequences” for the companies that have dared to be “woke,” a term that apparently means “issuing a public statement saying that voting is good and racism is bad.” I can think of no more serious consequence than a global minimum corporate tax rate. Line up in support, Republicans! This’ll teach em!

It is truly bizarre that the same strain of right wingers who have been inaccurately branded as “populist” are also the ones who most strenuously decry “globalism.” Globalism is a fact—not of government, but of money. Corporations and investors operate globally, with little regard for national borders. By contrast, labor and governments are tightly constrained by borders. Increasing global cooperation of governments and loosening immigration restrictions will serve the interests of humans, at the expense of the interests of capital. This is a good thing. If words meant anything, “populists” would strongly favor coordinated global taxation and the free movement of labor. Instead, the “populists” favor absolute freedom for money, and guns pointed in the face of humans trying to earn a living.

We’ll see how woke all of these companies are when it comes time to ask them how they feel about having their international tax havens shut down. I can only assume they will all be excited for the chance to patriotically contribute their fair share to the public.

Hamilton Nolan
Who's Afraid of Critical Race Theory? - Right-wing censorship efforts are reaching new heights with the push to erase any talk of racism from American classrooms.é-crenshaw-1619-project Tue, 06 Apr 2021 06:55:00 -0500é-crenshaw-1619-project crit•i•cal race the•o•ry


1. An analytical framework to critique institutionalized white supremacy. Pioneered by legal scholars, critical race theory is continuously evolving but remains rooted in an ethical commitment to human liberation. The framework emphasizes that race is socially constructed and intersects with other identities, such as gender. Proponents seek to use scholarship to transform social structures.

“The commitment to free speech seems to dissipate when the people who are being gagged are folks who are demanding racial justice.” —Kimberlé Crenshaw, pioneering legal scholar

Where did critical race theory come from?

Critical race theory, or CRT, emerged in the 1980s among a group of legal scholars, including Kimberlé Crenshaw (also known for the related concept of “intersectionality”), to explain how racial subordination could persist within a system predicated on “equal rights.” They objected to the dominant academic and popular conception of racism: that it resulted from irrational bias that could be corrected by changing the beliefs and behaviors of individuals. Discrimination endures, Crenshaw wrote, due to the “stubborn endurance of the structures of white dominance” enmeshed in the American legal (and socioeconomic) system.

OK. So why has CRT suddenly become national news?

In a September 2020 memo, the Trump administration attacked CRT as “divisive, anti-American propaganda” and banned federal agencies from conducting racial sensitivity trainings. That kicked off the former administration’s full-frontal assault on the field of critical race theory, culminating with the release—on Martin Luther King Jr. Day!—of a “1776 Report” that erases the United States’ history of racism.

The Biden administration reversed Trump’s ban, but conservative lawmakers are pursuing similar measures at the state level. In Arkansas, a pair of bills introduced in January would cut funding for classes and activities promoting “social justice” for certain groups, specifically prohibiting curriculum using the New York Times“1619 Project.” The Times project, developed by reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, re-examines the central role of slavery in U.S. history. (Republicans in Oklahoma and West Virginia have introduced similar legislation.)

In reality, how widespread is CRT?

You may be surprised to learn our former president was exaggerating its prevalence. While a new right-wing website,, “reveals” more than 200 universities that offer courses engaging with CRT and urges parents to defend their children from “indoctrination,” many primary schools still teach that Columbus “discovered” America, the American Revolution secured “inalienable rights” for all Americans and the civil rights movement solved racial inequality. In reality, this is just the latest in a long history of attacks on any attempts to discuss racism in K-12 and higher education curriculum.

This is part of “The Big Idea,” a monthly series offering brief introductions to progressive theories, policies, tools and strategies that can help us envision a world beyond capitalism. For recent In These Times coverage of race, see, The Movement For Black Lives Has Been Waiting For This Moment, Rev. William Barber: The Fight for a $15 Minimum Wage Is a Fight for Racial Justice, and Violence Against Asian Women Workers Is All-American.

In These Times Editors
Inside the Covid-Induced Collapse of American Higher Education - SUNY Albany associate professor Aaron Major takes stock of the academic labor movement and its post-pandemic future. Mon, 05 Apr 2021 14:07:00 -0500 COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the world of higher education: forced campus re-openings have pushed many directly into harm's way; colleges and universities have suffered massive budget shortfalls; some institutions have closed permanently; the academic job market has been blown up; etc. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, "the U.S. Labor Department has estimated that American academic institutions have shed a net total of at least 650,000 workers."

This week, we talk to Aaron Major, Associate Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York (SUNY), Albany, and president of the Albany chapter of United University Professions, the nation’s largest higher education union. We discuss Aaron's path to higher ed and the academic labor movement, how COVID-19 has revealed the ways in which our higher education system is broken, and why we must reinvest higher education as a public good and raise the floor for all campus workers.

Maximillian Alvarez
McGraw Hill Rejects Calls to Stop Charging Its Freelancers a Fee in Order to Get Paid - Labor advocates say the practice is an "outrage," and fear that it will spread. Mon, 05 Apr 2021 08:37:00 -0500 The revelation that McGraw Hill (MH), a multibillion-dollar educational publishing company, has begun charging its freelancers and independent contractors a fee in order to get paid has prompted a wave of public outrage, along with a letter from advocacy groups demanding that the company end the practice. The company’s response: No.

Two weeks ago, In These Times reported on the existence of the 2.2% fee that the company began charging last October. The fee applies to freelancers and independent contractors who submit invoices through the company’s invoicing system, called Fieldglass—but because that is the only way to invoice the company, it amounts to a mandatory fee that workers must pay in order to get what the company owes. The company calls it an “administrative fee” levied in order to “cover the cost of third-party vendors that help us ensure that each contractor meets the requirements needed to be classified as an Independent Contractor under various state laws and IRS regulations.” But it is, in effect, an across-the-board mandatory pay cut for all of the workers, a brazen and unusual move by the company to shift its normal administrative costs onto the backs of its freelancers.

The story caused an uproar among the wider community of people who do freelance editorial work for a living. On social media, the fee was referred to as “incredible,” “utter crap,” and “bullshit.” The existence of the fee, which was not widely known, even caused mortification inside McGraw Hill itself. “The fee is an embarrassment. We've always been good to our freelancers so I was very surprised to learn we'd be charging a fee to process their invoices. Taking a cut from their pay is petty and makes us look bad,” said one MH employee, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear over professional repercussions. “I really hope the company reconsiders and rolls back this policy. The invoicing system is already a pain to use.”

On March 30, representatives of more than a dozen groups representing editorial and freelance workers, including the National Writers Union, Freelancers Union and the Authors Guild, sent a letter to the company demanding "that you immediately cease this inequitable practice that amounts to a wage cut at an unprecedented time… and reimburse all freelancers who have already been charged this outrageous fee.” The letter called the practice “shocking,” and noted that MH’s digital revenue has been growing even as the company shifted costs onto its freelance work force.

The company was unmoved. David Stafford, the SVP and general counsel of MH, sent a reply letter on April 1 saying that “The 2.2% fee offsets the incremental costs we now incur to ensure proper labor force classification. We communicated the fee in advance to our independent contractors and they agreed to pay it.”

The letter also includes a common rationalization used by “gig economy” companies that seek to lower labor costs by using more freelancers and fewer full time employees: “Many of the independent contractors we engage already have full-time jobs and the work they do for us provides them with additional income. The rate of independent contractors returning to do work with us is very high and during the pandemic, the percentage of independent contractors who had more than one project with us increased. The high return rate implies satisfaction among the independent contractors who work with us.” This is an example of the gig economy’s underlying sleight of hand—to force workers to take up more and more freelance work out of economic necessity, and then use the fact that they are doing that work as proof that they're satisfied with the arrangement.

The groups that sent the complaint letter are unsatisfied. Mary Rasenberger, the CEO of the Authors Guild, said that the fee itself is “exploitative, and an outrage,” and that it sets a “dangerous precedent.” Rafael Espinal, the head of the Freelancers Union, called the company’s response “tone-deaf.”

“The simple fact that freelancers have agreed to these terms is not evidence that they are happy with the system, it's proof that they feel they have no recourse when presented with usurious terms such as this,” Espinal said. “It is a matter of course that corporations bear the administrative and payroll costs associated with their employees. There is absolutely no reason they should not bear the same responsibility when hiring freelancers.”

Advocates are unanimous in rejecting the company’s assertion that charging a fee in order to get paid is either standard or defensible. “In no way is this a common or justified business practice,” said Larry Bleiberg, the president of the Society of American Travel Writers and a signatory of the letter. “It’s a scheme dreamed up by his company to squeeze out extra revenue. I’m just disappointed that a publisher that claims to support writers, photographers and graphic artists—and profits from their work—would so shamelessly try to take advantage of them.”

The company appears to have made the calculation that the revenue it takes in by charging freelancers in order to get paid is worth the bad publicity it has received thus far. There is serious money at stake for both sides. Were it to become common, the practice of shifting administrative costs away from employers and onto freelancers would constitute a permanent decline in wages for independent contractors—another incremental step downward for workers in an era when full-time employment is becoming harder and harder to find. The National Writers Union, which represents freelance writers, is actively seeking MH freelancers who have been charged the fee, in order to organize them to fight the practice.

“I understand being hesitant to reach out,” said NWU president Larry Goldbetter, “but they can make all the difference here.”

Hamilton Nolan
What's Really Behind the Opposition to a $15 Minimum Wage - Fifty-seven senators from both parties are determined to preserve an economic system that rewards the rich and punishes the poor. Mon, 05 Apr 2021 07:00:00 -0500 Missing from the Congressional debate over raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is any acknowledgement that poverty-level wages are integral to a class system that rewards the rich and punishes the poor.

With few exceptions, where a person ends up in life—in terms of health, wealth and general wellbeing—is determined by the economic class into which they are born. People born poor die poor. People born rich die rich. This basic, intrinsic feature of American political economy is shaded from view by our culture’s celebration of the so-called meritocracy, the myth that if a person works hard enough, they can win at any table, despite the stacked deck.

Government can intervene to lift people out of poverty. The 1944 GI Bill, for example, enabled the families of millions of World War II vets to enter the middle class. Because of structural racism, however, most of those who benefited were white. The legislation did not guarantee the same housing and educational benefits to 1.2 million Black vets.

On March 5, the Senate had another opportunity to lift millions out of poverty, this time by raising the minimum wage to $15. But 50 Republicans, seven Democrats and an Independent voted against the bill sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In doing so, they denied a raise to the 32 million workers—about 21% of the workforce—including 31% of Black workers, 26% percent of Hispanic workers and 20% of white workers. That number includes the 1.1 million Americans who earn $7.25 or less, and the approximately 20.6 million who earn a “near-minimum” wage of up to $10.10, according to the Pew Research Center.

Like $7.25 an hour, $10.10 is not a “living wage,” the earnings needed to cover the cost of a family’s basic necessities, as defined by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator project. By MIT’s calculation, a couple with two children who each earn $10.10 an hour would both need to work more than 65 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to earn the $68,808 living wage they need. Some people try to do it; according to the Census Bureau, around 7.8% of workers hold more than one job.

When former enslaved person and abolitionist Frederick Douglass took his first paying job, he declared, “Now I am my own master.” But by 1883, he observed, “Experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.”

The condition of wage workers has improved since the depravities of the Gilded Age because of the tireless work of the American labor movement. That movement, however, has atrophied in recent decades, with membership declining from its 1954 high of 34.8% of the workforce to the current 10.8%.

Though his bill was defeated, Sanders vowed to fight on: “If any Senator believes this is the last time they will cast a vote on whether or not to give a raise to 32 million Americans, they are sorely mistaken.”

In addition to giving that raise, next on the progressive agenda should be the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which passed the House on March 9, and now heads to the Senate. If passed, it would enshrine the basic right of workers to organize without interference from their employers. It would also allow workers to engage in political strikes, secondary strikes and solidarity strikes—powerful tactics once despised by anti-New-Dealers who sought to rein in worker power with the Taft-Hartley Act.

American workers need a raise. They also need power over their workplaces and their own lives.

Joel Bleifuss
Will Biden Make Good on Obama's Promise to Close Guantánamo? - Twelve years ago, one of our writers outlined what needs to happen to finally shut down Gitmo. Mon, 05 Apr 2021 06:00:00 -0500 The Biden administration reiterated its aim, in February, to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay by the time President Joe Biden leaves office. Human rights advocates might be forgiven for their skepticism. President Barack Obama also promised to close the site in Cuba, and he significantly reduced the number of people held there, but Congress kept the prison open. Today, the facility detains 40 people; many of them are detained without charge or trial. Back in 2009, Eric Lewis warned In These Times readers that closing Gitmo was not enough—that if the United States wants to reaffirm the rule of law, it must ensure that all of its prisoners are given due process. The following is an excerpt from that story, exploring what was (and what remains) at stake. In 2009, Eric Lewis wrote:

To mark a true break from the policies of the [President George W.] Bush years, the Obama administration must resolve some lingering questions.

First, what will happen to [Gitmo] detainees who cannot be returned to their home countries?

There are about 65 to 85 detainees now held at Guantánamo who have been “cleared for release.” That is, they have been found not to have committed crimes and not to pose a threat of future danger. … As a first priority, the Obama administration should work with allies to get these men—some of whom have been incarcerated for nearly seven years—out of jail and resettled, and accept some of these detainees into the United States.

Second, what will happen to the detainees who cannot be charged with crimes but have been viewed as “too dangerous to release”?

No doubt there are dangerous men at Guantánamo. Yet only 21 have been charged with crimes. The Pentagon is holding the rest—about 70 to 80 detainees—in preventive detention, which means a special court may have to consider whether they should be held. But a preventive detention court is fundamentally incompatible with our criminal justice system, which adjudicates the culpability of past acts rather than predictions of future dangerousness. These men should be put on trial in our criminal courts.

…[President Barack Obama] should end these military commissions, which fail to provide the basic rights of our civilian or traditional military justice system. It is also vital that steps are taken to assure that evidence has not been obtained by torture, and that the defendants have the right to confront evidence against them and to have access to exculpatory evidence that the criminal justice system provides.

... [Last],will the system change or only the [prison location]?

... The Obama administration must make clear that, once out of an active war zone, prisoners under U.S. control will be given appropriate process and held at sites where the conditions of captivity are humane and transparent. … [I]t is important that detainees are not brought en masse to Afghanistan or other places where the government will argue that detainees lack fundamental rights because they are in a war zone or outside U.S. sovereignty.

What is critical is not only the end of Guantánamo, the place and the symbol, but also Guantánamo as a parallel legal world that is anathema to American values and the rule of law. Many of the 245 men who remain are now marking their seventh year in captivity. The closure should be done carefully but quickly. ...
In These Times Editors
How a Rural Colorado Community Self-Organized a Successful Vaccination Effort - Immigrant community groups, forced to organize by the constant threat of ICE, have played a central role as vaccine information networks. Fri, 02 Apr 2021 16:00:00 -0500 Editor's Note: This column was provided by Writers on the Range, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West.

Southwestern Colorado is used to spending winters partially isolated from the rest of Colorado, thanks to treacherous mountain passes that hem communities in when bad weather strikes.

That may explain the spirit of can-do volunteerism that drove the county’s early Covid-19 vaccine efforts. Nurse practitioner Karen Zink took on the push for organizing with a Dec. 30 call to San Juan Basin Public Health director Liane Jollon, who gave Zink permission to start planning.

“We were out of the gate in 18 days, with first vaccinations January 18,” says Zink. Their base was the La Plata County Fairgrounds, which Zink credits with being a trusted place, not clinical or political.

Basin Health, which oversees Archuleta and La Plata counties, has since taken over, but Zink’s team pushed the region into the lead statewide, at one point vaccinating 254 people an hour. Now the proof is in the numbers: 70% of seniors over 70 are vaccinated in La Plata County alone.

Why was the county so successful? One answer can be found in the Latinx community. La Plata County is smothered by federal immigration employees, with more working in the Four Corners area than in any other region in the state.

“That consistent threat forced us to organize,” says Enrique Orozco, lead community advocate for Compañeros Immigrant Resource Center, a nonprofit based in Durango. “When the chance for mass vaccination came, we had the beginnings of a network to get the word out if vaccines became available.”

But challenges were everywhere: Few people had access to computers, many had a deep-seated fear of any governmental authority and the population was widely dispersed.

But Orozco had a superb organizer in Beatriz Garcia, program manager at Compañeros who distributes food on Fridays from Compañeros’ office. Orozco says the network she grew to distribute food was perfect for developing a get-the-vaccine chain.

Orozco credits early vaccine recipients for helping to counter Covid vaccination fears. They went out in the community, explaining that the side effects were mild and ensuring that “Latinx vaccine sites (run by Basin Heath) had no police presence and brown Spanish-speaking people were on site for comfort,” says Orozco.

The last 12 months have been painful and sometimes desperate for the people in his community, says Orozco. There were no three rounds of stimulus checks, or extended unemployment help: “If you’re undocumented, and you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

Zink, whose family has ranched the area for several generations and who is founder and co-owner of Southwest Women’s Health Associates, was key to the two counties’ success.

Her fast start was spurred by a Durango Herald article, which ultimately led to 400 volunteers signing up, all of whom had to be certified as health workers via the nationwide Medical Reserve Corps. “I think people were tired of being cooped up,” Zink says.

The big volunteer base meant Zink’s team fielded 15 separate vaccination teams, each with intake personnel, post-shot caregivers and even traffic directors. Combined with other vaccination teams, this gave Executive Director Liane Jollon confidence to tell Gov. Jared Polis that the Durango community could take every shot he could spare when 40,000 doses landed in Denver.

The two small counties, including the indigenous community of the Southern Ute Nation, were ready when 4,000 of those doses—10% of the state’s total—arrived. The Anglo community helped by calling at-risk residents. A crucial link between Zink and the Latinx community was Anne Markward, who handled technology for the effort with her husband Doug. She had a Zoom meeting with Orozco about getting his list of recipients together. At the time, state guidelines mandated only elderly and folks with impaired health, but once they were vaccinated, the excess went to the Latinx community and other service workers.

With everyone working together, every dose found an arm.

La Plata and Archuleta counties now brag they have one of the highest rates of Covid-19 vaccination in the state, and this is crucial for an economy that depends on tourism for one-third of its economic activity. No one should forget, says vaccine volunteer Jessica Wheeler, that “our economy could not survive without the Latinx community. Whether it's skilled labor, housekeeping, maintenance or kitchen staff, they support us all.”

Orozco has another group to thank. He credits public health officials for making sure people get protected: “They don’t ask for your age or your job and are doing it on trust.”

Dave Marston
Citing Unfair Labor Practices, 1,300 Steelworkers Strike in Five States - United Steelworkers members claim Allegheny Technologies Incorporated is refusing to provide essential bargaining information. Thu, 01 Apr 2021 10:45:00 -0500 BRACKENRIDGE, PA — At 7:00 AM on Tuesday, March 30, 1,300 Steelworkers employed by Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI) walked out in protest at facilities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The strike comes just over a year after United Steelworkers began negotiations with ATI. According to a statement released that day, the union is dissatisfied with company demands for "major economic and contract language concessions."

United Steelworkers further claims that ATI has committed unfair labor practices. A charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board on March 9 alleges that the company is refusing to furnish the union with essential bargaining information. As USW International Vice President David McCall tells it, this withholding finally pushed the workers to strike.

"We are willing to meet with management all day, every day. But ATI needs to engage with us to resolve the outstanding issues," McCall says. "We will continue to bargain in good faith, and we strongly urge ATI to start doing the same.

Healthcare is among the biggest points of contention in the negotiations. While the company maintains that their proposals continue a "premium-free plan," a union bargaining update contends that out-of-pocket costs are up. Workers are also balking at a company plan to assign coverage to workers hired after 2024, which they say will give new employees inferior, more expensive coverage and thus introduce a "two-tiered system."

Plant closures have been another topic of heated debate. Andy Artman, President of USW 1138-6 and an electrician at ATI's Latrobe facility, says he had to relocate after ATI's Bagdad plant in Gilpin, PA, shuttered in 2016. And he has company. Michael Barchesky, who has worked in electrical maintenance at the Latrobe facility since 2007, claims he knows people who have had to move two or three times because of facility closures. With the company pushing for more—including the Waterbury facility in Connecticut, the Louisville facility in Ohio, and a production line in Brackenridge—the union is fighting to ensure that workers forced into retirement will keep the pensions they've earned.

For rank-and-file workers like Joe Clark, an overhead crane operator at the Brackenridge facility, a work stoppage is his chance to draw a line in the sand after years of compromise.

"When we were first contracted to put this [hot rolling mill] in [at Brackenridge], they asked us for concessions because they wanted to create jobs that were going to be for us and for our families in the future," says Clark. "It was supposed to guarantee more jobs for the community, so we sacrificed."

The company spent $1.5 billion to expand and update the Brackenridge facility, aided by a controversial economic development strategy known as "Keystone Opportunity Zones." The long-term tax abatements awarded to these zones were supposed to create jobs, but a 2015 piece written by then-President of the USW, Leo Gerard, argues they have never materially benefitted local residents. Bill Hrivnak, who Gerard quotes in the piece, says that "[Everyone] thought when they built a $1 billion plant here that it would be great for the community, and it hasn't been.”

"They cut two thirds of the same department we work in now," he continues. "The [new] jobs never appeared, the technology cut [existing] jobs, and we continued to work without raises, sacrificing. They're always telling us the company is in a difficult position, and they're not making money. But they're paying out millions of dollars to their CEOs and their upper-level people."

Workers are skeptical about the company's claimed hardship. "You look at what we're getting compensated and what the CEOs are getting compensated, it doesn't really add up," says Barchevsky.

Although it expects to rebound in 2021, recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission reveal ATI has lost money each of the last three quarters. The same report finds that the company has "reduced company-wide employment levels by approximately 1,400 people, or about 17% of our total workforce."

Many of those layoffs have been union jobs. Before a 2015 labor dispute that led to a lockout, workers say there were approximately 2,200 bargaining unit employees. Now there are just 1300, with management proposing to close more plants and make further cuts.

Artman puts things bluntly: "They're trying to break the union." Clark agrees, describing management as a "tyranny of evil men." For its part, ATI released a statement on social media saying that it was "disappointed USW elected to strike."

Fortunately for the USW, the Brackenridge community is on its side.

"Everyone's still supportive," says Barchesky. "They still wave, they still come and talk to us. Nobody wants to go on strike. We didn't get compensated for the last seven months we were locked out, but we can't lay down and take another beating… we can't let them just keep gutting us."

C.M. Lewis
Biden's Treatment of Asylum-Seekers Looks a Lot Like Trump's - Migrants are being whisked away in the night, without a hearing, on “public health” grounds. Thu, 01 Apr 2021 07:00:00 -0500 This piece is published in collaboration with Prism.

A man calls the Phoenix Police Department on January 29—his uncle has been kidnapped. Smugglers are holding his uncle at a drop house. They had helped his uncle, a newly arrived undocumented immigrant, cross the border. Now, they want more money.

After the police arrive, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement show up. They apprehend the uncle and dozens of migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, including three children.

So far, the events that unfolded are disturbing but standard practice. In Phoenix, local police and federal immigration authorities have long cooperated.

But what happened next was part of something new.

To find out where these migrants were taken, grassroots migrant justice organization Puente Human Rights Movement tapped its network of activists and legal advocates. Some were detained at the Florence Correctional Center in Florence, Ariz. Others, at the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy Ariz. According to advocates (who spoke with one migrant’s family members), the migrants were never asked if they were asylum seekers, and they were never asked to participate in a criminal investigation into human trafficking, which could have earned them temporary immigration visas.

Instead, advocates say, the migrants were held and expelled under an obscure provision in U.S. Code Title 42, the part of the law that covers public health and welfare. President Donald Trump weaponized Title 42 during the Covid-19 pandemic as a way to expel border-crossers more quickly and with less fuss, a practice that continues under President Joe Biden.

Title 42 Explained

The Trump administration invoked Title 42 early in the Covid-19 pandemic, under the pretense of protecting public health, to authorize Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to expel migrants without documentation near the border or at ports of entry. Migrants subjected to Title 42 are whisked away, leaving almost no trace in the U.S. immigration system.

That mechanism—expulsion—is different from deportation.

In deportation, migrants are first admitted into the United States. They receive an Alien Registration Number, or A-Number. And, unless they qualify for “expedited removal,” they get to appear before a judge. Even in expedited removal cases, asylum seekers who pass a “credible fear interview” get a hearing. No matter how broken and punitive the process is, there is, at least, a process. Expulsion results in the same ejection of migrants from the United States, but without any of this process.

Title 42 has sealed the border in a way that anti-immigrant zealot Stephen Miller, a top Trump aide and the policy’s biggest proponent, could have only dreamt of.

At the start of the pandemic, Title 42’s forerunner, the 2019 Remain in Mexico policy, had already pushed approximately 60,000 asylum seekers to Mexico—people who previously would have been allowed to wait in the United States for their cases to be adjudicated. At the urging of Miller, the Trump administration effectively closed the border using Title 42. Remain in Mexico hearings were indefinitely postponed and newly arrived migrants—including asylum seekers—were expelled.

Of course, for the anti-immigrant Trump administration, public health concerns were a mere fig leaf. According to the Associated Press, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention balked at the Title 42 order, saying there was no evidence it would slow the virus. Public health experts stated that there was no scientific justification for the policy. Masks, social distancing and screening measures at the border could make migration safe.

Crucially, experts noted, the government would also need to stop holding newly arrived migrants in group detention centers and instead allow them to shelter with their families or community contacts in the United States. These alternatives to detention programs have existed for years, enabling asylum seekers to reside in the United States as their cases are adjudicated.

Beginning in February, the Biden administration began its slow reversal of Remain in Mexico (frustrating those who wanted it immediately rescinded) by processing a couple dozen asylum seekers a day in some ports of entry, including San Diego and El Paso.

Title 42 expulsions continue on a daily basis.

On February 10, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had a message for migrants seeking life-saving asylum: “Now is not the time to come.” Psaki cited Biden’s limited time in office as the reason “a humane, comprehensive process for processing individuals” at the border does not yet exist. In the meantime, Psaki said, a “vast majority of people will be turned away.”

Trump’s Kids

Outrage over the Trump administration’s Title 42 expulsions exploded in summer 2020 after federal immigration authorities secretly contracted with a private security firm to detain children and families at hotels. Unaccompanied children were of particular concern.

Otherwise known in the immigration system as “unaccompanied alien child[ren],” these minors migrate alone to the United States without authorization. In theory, minors have significantly more protections than adults, because of laws such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the Flores settlement agreement (which outlines basic standards of care for immigrant children in federal custody). Before being sent back across the border, Mexican and Canadian children must be screened to determine if they are trafficking victims, eligible for asylum, or can’t make decisions for themselves. Unaccompanied children from other countries are transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they are detained in shelters or placed with a sponsor (typically a family member) until a judge hears their case.

This process for unaccompanied children impeded the Trump administration’s ability to deport newly arrived children as easily as it wanted. So, instead, under Title 42, children as young as one year old were put into black sites under the supervision of unlicensed transportation workers employed by a private company, contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) spoke with some of these children. According to TCRP senior attorney Karla Marisol Vargas, the organization learned that there were children held in hotel rooms, watched over by guards, for days. Phone calls were generally forbidden. This meant children could be driven to the airport for expulsion flights in the middle of the night, with many of their families not even knowing they had been in federal custody.

Beyond violating asylum laws, the Trump administration’s use of Title 42 also created a shadow system that made tracking these migrants impossible.

There was no record of these children in the regular immigration system, no A-Number, no information about where they were detained. It was as if they didn’t exist, according to Vargas, who has advocated for children subject to Title 42. Attorneys eventually learned these children instead received Title 42 identification numbers, which were entered into a shadow tracking system.

An ongoing class action lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children prompted a judge in November 2020 to block the federal government’s ability to continue using Title 42 to detain children in black sites. Another court reversed the ban on January 29, but there have been no reports to date of children being held in hotels under the Biden administration.

The use of Title 42 to expel adults who cross the border without documentation, however, continues.

Biden’s Migrants

Presently, under Title 42, adult migrants found at the border without documentation (who are not “amenable to immediate expulsion to Mexico or Canada,” per a CBP memo) are detained, then expelled to their home country. Border Patrol’s “portable command stations” process migrants in the field, allowing “expeditious” expulsion—meaning they are transferred to ICE custody, where, in the name of public health, they are detained in crowded facilities where Covid-19 is known to spread. ICE then expels these immigrants (and the virus, if they have contracted it) all over the world.

In total, between March 2020 and January 2021, Title 42 was used more than 450,000 times at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of these people would otherwise have undergone the asylum process.

In the first 11 days of February, the Biden administration commissioned planes to fly about 900 Haitians seeking asylum back to Port-au-Prince under Title 42, according to an analysis by Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

On February 23, more than 60 members of Congress signed a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas calling for an end to Title 42 expulsions, focusing specifically on expulsions to Haiti.

“Many migrants are at high risk of exposure to Covid-19 while being detained in the United States pending their expulsion or deportation to less-resourced countries with severely strained health systems,” the letter says. “Haiti, for example, has only 124 [intensive care] beds and the capacity to ventilate 62 patients for a country of 11 million. The island nation also is mired in severe economic, security, and constitutional crises, yet has received more than 900 migrants since February 1. This includes a recent February 8 flight in which 72 people were deported to Port-au-Prince, including a two-month-old baby and 21 other children.” (Although the letter used the term "deported," this was actually an expulsion.)

Red Flags

The use of Title 42 in Arizona is unprecedented.

Phoenix is a major metropolitan area that is a 150-mile drive from the nearest U.S. border, far from where enforcement of Title 42 would be expected, given that the policy is directed at people in the act of crossing over. But in September 2020 and January 2021, under Title 42—in different operations and during different presidential administrations—advocates report at least 125 newly arrived migrants were apprehended and processed.

The morning of Sept. 16, 2020, Sandra Solis, director of organizing and movement building for Puente, received a text message from a colleague about a multi-agency raid unfolding in Phoenix. Solis is accustomed to providing support when immigrant communities are targeted, but when she arrived at a home on residential 27th Avenue, something seemed off.

According to Solis, the chaotic scene included about 30 officials with the Department of Homeland Security (including CBP), the Phoenix Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Undercover officers mixed with armed officers in paramilitary gear as unmarked SUVs and trucks—and a tank—stood in front of the house. Migrants apprehended in the raid were herded into vans parked in an alley.

Solis says she became suspicious because CBP and DEA officials were on the scene—two agencies that almost never participate in Phoenix-area immigration raids. Later that day, in nearby Chandler, a similar raid was staged. Grassroots organizers and legal advocates were able to determine the migrants apprehended were expelled from the United States within hours.

No records of these migrants exist by A-Number in the U.S. immigration system, Solis says. They were disappeared.

The speed of the expulsions meant Puente was unable to establish contact with the migrants. Advocates never learned if they were trafficked or asylum seekers.

“The city of Phoenix has its own protocol for when people are victims of trafficking [and] essentially this was trafficking,” Solis says. “All of these people should have been provided U-Visas [for victims of crime]. Instead, they were [expelled] without due process.

“I think that’s one of the biggest, most important things to note: They’re utilizing Title 42 to deny people who are victims of trafficking.”

Local news outlets reported on the raids and cited narcotics search warrants, potential criminal activity and the apprehension of several dozen people “suspected of entering the country illegally,” but only one referenced Title 42.

The use of Title 42 was confirmed, however, by Javier Gurrola, CBP executive officer of law enforcement operations, in an email to Losmin Jiménez, who worked in partnership with Puente as a former senior attorney at the Advancement Project, a racial justice nonprofit in Washington, D.C. First, he confirmed Border Patrol participated in a “multi-agency operation” Sept. 16, 2020, in two Phoenix-area locations, and took custody of 65 people, including unaccompanied minors, suspected of being undocumented.

Then, the email reads: “The majority of these detainees have been processed as per [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines (T42) to prevent the introduction of Covid-19 into the United States.”

Solis says the multi-agency September raids remind her of how Arizona has piloted a partnership between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities before, with a 2010 law known as SB 1070 that attracted attention and outrage nationwide for explicitly allowing racial profiling. The law, at the time, was the strictest anti-immigrant measure in the United States. Portions of the law were struck down by the Supreme Court, but the “papers please” provision that critics say allows racial profiling was not— meaning that police officers in Arizona are still required to make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of anyone lawfully stopped if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” they are undocumented.

Copycat bills were introduced in other states, although most failed to make it into law.

SB 1070 solidified a police-ICE partnership in Arizona, creating what advocates call a poli-migra state, a slang term used in some Spanish-speaking immigrant communities to refer to the coordination of local police with federal immigration authorities.

Expelling Victims

Even before Arizona’s SB 1070 law, the state had a history of piloting deeply harmful immigration policies and practices. For example, in 2006, Arizona became one of the first places to implement Operation Streamline, under the radar. This joint Homeland Security and Justice Department initiative created “zero-tolerance immigration enforcement zones” in which authorities could criminally prosecute migrants for “illegal entry”—where, previously, Mexican migrants would be returned to Mexico and non-Mexican migrants would have to appear before an immigration judge.

In effect, Operation Streamline pioneered the “crimmigration” system the U.S. now has, in which undocumented migrants are prosecuted through the criminal justice system, rather than processed through the civil immigration system.

Advocates with Puente fear it’s only a matter of time before immigration authorities use Title 42 to expel migrants in cities beyond Phoenix—if it’s not happening already.

After the September 2020 raids, Jiménez thought the use of Title 42 so far from the border could have been a “one-off thing.” Then, it happened again.

On January 29, someone called Puente’s crisis line to report a number of unmarked vehicles in front of a house on 14th Avenue. There are few media reports about the January 29 raid, but a statement to Prism and In These Times from Mercedes Fortune, Phoenix Police Department public information sergeant, confirms police responded to a caller reporting “a person who was being held against their will.”

Officers found more than 50 people inside the residence and “determined the persons were involved in human smuggling,” according to the February 19 statement. “The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement were advised and they have taken over the investigation.”

In instances of suspected human trafficking, the Phoenix Police Department is supposed to perform its own investigation. According to the department’s Operations Order 4.48, the “papers, please” provision of SB 1070 does not apply if it may hinder an investigation by undermining cooperation. The order notes, in particular, the need for “significant cooperation of those involved” in human trafficking cases.

Instead, in the January 29 raid, the Phoenix Police Department appears to have simply handed the case to ICE. The police department did not respond to a query about whether it was conducting its own investigation. ICE, in an emailed statement to Prism and In These Times, says it took 60 people to the ICE office for processing. From there, according to advocates, the migrants wound up at the Florence and Eloy Detention Centers. (The Eloy Detention Center, in June and July of 2020, had one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks of any immigration detention facility in the country, and both centers had confirmed cases as of January.)

Solis and her colleagues at Puente maintain ICE processed the migrants under Title 42, based on information from someone who was picked up in the raid and held at Eloy. (The names of undocumented migrants and their family members have been withheld for their protection.) Puente says it confirmed with a legal-aid attorney that the person was detained at Eloy and that they do not appear to have an A-Number. Since this person’s release, members of Puente say another aid group has confirmed similar Title 42 findings.

A great deal of murkiness still surrounds the use of Title 42, including whether ICE even has authority to use it. The Trump administration’s original memo outlining the use of Title 42 was directed at CBP and “specifically the United States Border Patrol,” separate from ICE. In the first Arizona raid in September 2020, CBP was at the scene; at the January raid, advocates saw only ICE and the Phoenix Police Department.

When asked directly whether ICE has authorization to process newly arrived undocumented migrants under Title 42 without coordination from CBP, ICE spokesperson Alexx Pons would only say Title 42 is within the purview of CBP and “expulsions under Title 42 are not based on immigration status and are tracked separately from immigration enforcement actions.”

ICE referred further questions to CBP. CBP did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

A Rogue System

The raids that unfolded around Phoenix are perhaps the first (documented) cases of Title 42 used to expel migrants far from the borders.

It is relevant to note that, while many associate CBP directly with the U.S. border, its reach is actually much larger. It has authority within 100 air miles of any land border or coastline, a territory that encompasses Phoenix, New York and many other major cities. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population resides within CBP’s jurisdiction—in other words, the territory where Title 42 grants CBP license to quickly expel newly arrived migrants under the guise of public health.

That the Biden administration has so far chosen to continue Title 42 expulsions may surprise some, but not Solis. The community organizer anticipated Biden taking an “Obama-style” approach, a nod to the raids and mass deportations that occurred during President Barack Obama’s years, when Biden was vice president.

“The people affected the most are those whose lives are affected by the immigration system, and this administration’s not really doing anything super proactive,” Solis says. “Title 42 is serving its purpose. It’s doing what [Homeland Security] intended it to do, which is create a rogue system.

“Regardless of the presidency, when it comes to immigration, there’s always a rogue system.”

Paco Alvarez and Brianna Bilter provided fact-checking.

Tina Vásquez
Nina Turner Hopes to Move Ohio Left - The "daughter of Cleveland" and former Bernie Sanders surrogate is running for Congress on a platform that includes a $15 minimum wage, recurring stimulus checks and free public college. Wed, 31 Mar 2021 06:50:00 -0500 Former Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner calls into a virtual fundraiser February 24, hosted by Our Revolution, the grassroots political advocacy group that used to call Turner its president. The event is one of dozens as her run for Congress ramps up in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, around Cleveland and Akron.

Per usual, Turner includes a call for radical change. “This nation is going to be better because there are some 21st-century freedom fighters who are willing to put it on the line,” Turner tells attendees.

Turner, who frequently cites famous Black politicians and activists, this time references former Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-Texas), who famously said in 1977: “What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.”

“Whether it’s dealing with the damage that we’re doing to Mother Earth, to ensuring that everybody in this nation has Medicare for All, to canceling student debt, to dealing with the injustices in the criminal justice system—you name it, baby, that is about creating an America that is as good as its promise, for everybody,” Turner says.

Turner announced her run to replace Rep. Marcia Fudge in December 2020, shortly after President Joe Biden announced Fudge as his pick for secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Turner is one of seven Democratic candidates, but what sets Turner apart early is her national following.

Turner quickly won an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whom she campaigned for in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) endorsed Turner the day she announced. The progressive political action committee Justice Democrats endorsed Turner in January, and Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) followed suit in February. And in March, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) backed Turner as well.

“I’m looking to have her seated next to me, fighting this fight,” Bush says at the February fundraiser. “We need somebody like Sen. Nina Turner who is unapologetic, who is unbossed, who is not ashamed and not afraid of her progressive values.”

Inside the district, no polling data has been released and campaign finance reports have been slow. But in the first few weeks of the campaign, Turner—who has pledged on Twitter not to accept any lobbyist or corporate PAC money—had raised $646,744. The next highest fundraiser, Cuyahoga County Councilor (and local Democratic Party Chair) Shontel Brown, had around $40,000.

Liz Shirey, Turner’s campaign manager, says they raised more than $1 million by early February in “tens of thousands of small-dollar donations from across the country.”

The former state senator’s local name recognition goes back more than a decade. Turner served on the Cleveland City Council from 2006 to 2008 before being appointed to the Ohio Senate. She won her seat in 2010 but chose not to run in 2014 to make a bid (unsuccessfully) for Ohio secretary of state.

Turner is joined in the race by Brown, former Cleveland Councilor and current state Sen. Jeff Johnson, former state Rep. John Barnes Jr., former state Sen. Shirley Smith, and lesser-known candidates Tariq Shabazz and Bryan Flannery. Based on fundraising and endorsements, Turner and Brown are considered the frontrunners.

In a state that went for former President Donald Trump in 2020, District 11 is a Democratic stronghold. Demographically, it is 53% Black with a strong working-class voting base and a median household income of $42,000.

Turner’s platform includes a $15 minimum wage, recurring stimulus checks and free public college, which she believes her working-class constituents need.

“I’m running for big mama who needs some relief,” Turner says. “I’m running for the babies in our community, some of whom don’t have the hardware, the software, the internet connection they need to even be able to study and learn. I’m running for frontline workers.”

Local endorsements in the race are slowly rolling in. The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents around 1,800 workers in the Cleveland area, endorsed Turner in late February, as did the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union Local 19, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

ATU was one of the first unions to endorse Joe Biden in the 2020 primaries, so its vote of confidence in Turner hints at her ability to win over mainstream organizations, despite the more traditional Democratic candidates.

Still, Turner faces stiff competition to win the labor vote. Brown has the support of the local Bricklayers Union, the Pipefitters Union, the Cleveland Building & Construction Trades Council and the Black Contractors Group, among others. The steelworkers have yet to endorse.

Fudge’s seat became officially vacant when her federal appointment was confirmed by the Senate on March 10 and she resigned from the House of Representatives, paving the way for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to call a special election. The primary will likely be in early May.

Turner has faith in her district and believes voters want real, systemic change.

“They want to know that their vote does really matter,” Turner says. “That when they do vote for Democrats, that something materially is going to change in their lives.”

Nuala Bishari
The Dangers of Factionalism in DSA - If the Left is to succeed where past generations have failed, it can’t allow sectarian organizations to operate as "parties within a party." Tue, 30 Mar 2021 13:42:00 -0500 The remarkable growth of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) over the past four years, from a group with a few thousand members to one with fifteen times that number, has made it the most significant U.S. socialist organization in nearly a century. Successful campaigns to elect open democratic socialists to public office have given the DSA real, if still embryonic, political influence. Four members—Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib—now sit in the House of Representatives. Together with Bernie Sanders in the Senate, this is the largest number of self-avowed democratic socialists ever to hold Congressional office simultaneously, to say nothing of the scores of DSA members who have been elected to state legislatures, county boards and city councils in recent years.

As DSA has grown in size and political influence, so too has the interest it has attracted from small political groups to its left. These "sects," short for sectarian organizations, see opportunities for themselves in the large numbers of young people new to politics who have joined DSA, viewing them as potential recruits for their emaciated ranks.

The recent announcement of the Trotskyist organization Socialist Alternative (SAlt) that its members were coming aboard, followed by a similar declaration from its leading member, Kshama Sawant, has simply made public a process that has been underway for some time—that various marginal Trotskyist organizations have infiltrated the DSA in a practice known as "entryism."

What is entryism and what kind of impact could it have on DSA?

Let's start with this disingenuous passage in the SAlt announcement:

We realize that DSA has a national "ban" on members of democratic centralist organizations joining. However, many DSA members we've talked to oppose this Cold War holdover and are excited about Socialist Alternative members joining. While this rule was originally created to prevent Marxists from joining DSA, in recent years, a new generation of DSA activists have changed the organizations' politics for the better, many of them identifying as Marxist. We think DSA should remove this exclusionary rule as another useful step towards transforming the socialist left into an important component for the emerging class struggles.

We, the undersigned, were involved in the crafting and adoption of the DSA Constitution that the SAlt communique alluded to. We have been a part of DSA's first generation of national leadership, and we have served in its two predecessor organizations, the New American Movement and the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. SAlt's claim that Marxists have been "banned" from joining DSA is a self-serving fiction, and they know it.

Many in the original leadership of DSA identified as Marxists. Michael Harrington, one of our two national co-chairs and our most prominent leader at the time of DSA's founding, wrote a number of widely read books in which he made a case for Marx's vision of socialism as democratic. Others of us who did not call ourselves Marxists never considered that they should be excluded from DSA.

Even if DSA's founders had not included many self-avowed Marxists, simple logic dictates that if we did not want them in our ranks, our Constitution would have explicitly prohibited them from joining. It did not. Contrary to the fables of SAlt, there are no political or ideological tests for joining DSA, no "bans" on who can join, and no approval process for new members. Don't take our word for it: Read the document as it's written. Ask yourself how any member of SAlt, past and present, could have joined DSA.

DSA's founders believed that we should assume the good faith of those who wanted to join our ranks, but we were not naïve. We were experienced and battle-hardened democratic socialists who had come from every part of the U.S. Left: women and men who had been leaders of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and various Trotskyist organizations, who were part of the Old Left of the 1930s and the New Left of the 1960s, and who came out of trade unions and civil rights, feminist and LGBTQ groups.

Assumptions notwithstanding, our rich collective memory told us that there would be small numbers of people who joined DSA in bad faith, that these people would behave in ways that were injurious to the mission and work of DSA, and that this behavior would need to be addressed. We knew from our history that the more successful DSA became, the more people would enter it for reasons other than advancing its mission. In the most extreme of these cases, DSA could well find that it needed to use the most serious penalty a democratic organization can levy against a member—expulsion. And given the gravity of such a step, we wanted to make sure that the Constitution specified its conditions so it would not be employed capriciously. Moreover, we wanted to ensure that there was due process for the member being expelled.

With this in mind, we wrote the following:

Members can be expelled if they are found to be in substantial disagreement with the principles or policies of the organization or if they consistently engage in undemocratic, disruptive behavior or if they are under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organization. Members facing expulsion must receive written notice of charges against them and must be given the opportunity to be heard before the NPC or a subcommittee thereof, appointed for the purpose of considering expulsion.

The first two grounds for expulsion are self-explanatory. The last ground—that a person was "under the discipline of any self-defined democratic centralist organization"—requires some historical background.

Entryism in the 1930s

In 1928, the U.S. Communist Party banished a small group of individuals from its ranks on the grounds that they were associates of Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik leader who had been purged from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during a factional struggle that had broken out after Lenin's death. For years, these renegades were spurned by the rest of the U.S. Left while they sought readmission to the CP in vain. By the mid-1930s and the start of the Moscow Trials in the Soviet Union, it was clear that their expulsion would not be reversed, and the Trotskyists began to look for ways out of the political wilderness in which they found themselves.

In the American Workers Party (AWP), organized by labor educator A. J. Muste, they saw a path back to relevance. The AWP was an attempt to form a uniquely American revolutionary Marxist party that broke with a U.S. Left whose politics were beholden to different strains of European socialism and communism. In its very brief existence, the AWP had done impressive labor organizing, highlighted by its leadership of the Toledo Auto-Lite strike—one of the epic work stoppages of the 1930s.

Muste was initially skeptical of Trotskyist appeals to combine forces. The AWP was a more substantial organization with deeper roots in the labor movement, and he found the Trotskyist leaders to be dogmatic and uncreative in their politics. Nonetheless, New York intellectuals Sidney Hook and James Burnham convinced him that a merger was a good idea. But Muste did place one condition on agreeing to the merger: that the Workers Party (WP) would not enter the Socialist Party.

This was a key point for Muste because the French Trotskyists, acting under the direction of Trotsky himself, had just allied with the French Socialists in a maneuver that came to be known as the "French turn." After a short stay in the French Socialists, during which they garnered recruits and promoted their politics, the Trotskyists split its ranks, denounced the Socialists, and reorganized as a purely Trotskyist party. Muste was promised that this would not happen in the United States.

Almost immediately, the Trotskyists went back on their word, forcing the question of entry into the U.S. Socialist Party. Weakened by the loss of long-term political associates who were unwilling to join forces with the Trotskyists, Muste lost the vote and the Workers Party, now firmly under Trotskyist control, entered the Socialist Party.

Once inside, the Trotskyists acted as a "party within a party," maintaining their own leadership structure (which regularly plotted factional moves within the Socialists) and publishing their own newspaper (which criticized the policies of the Socialist Party and promoted such Trotskyist projects as the founding of a Fourth International). Most important, all of the Trotskyists in the Socialist Party acted as one, under a single organizational discipline: they followed a pre-established "political line" Trotskyist leadership had laid down in all debates and votes inside the Socialist Party.

In short order, the Trotskyists forced a split in the Socialists and left with a thousand new members for their Socialist Workers Party (SWP), including much of the Socialists' youth section. After this stratagem was complete, Trotskyist leader James Patrick Cannon boasted not only of the Trotskyists' success in growing their numbers, but also of the fact that they had left the Socialist Party in shambles.

Cannon took pride in having engineered a major setback for the U.S. Left: By the 1930s, the ranks of the Socialist Party had grown dramatically, making it into a potentially significant force in U.S. politics. But after a series of misjudgments and internal crises, cresting with its disastrous co-habitation with the Trotskyists, the Socialist Party ended the decade as a shadow of its former self. For U.S. socialists of the 1930s, a number of whom would co-found the DSA decades later, this was a searing political ordeal they would not forget. Muste himself was deeply shaken by these events, which he would describe as a violation of "working class ethics," and he left the Trotskyists.

The Trotskyists' entry into the Socialist Party, organized as a disciplined "party within a party" to garner recruits and split its ranks, established the template for what we now call "entryism" on the U.S. Left.

Entryism in the 1960s

Entryism is not a practice limited to Trotskyist sects, as the experience of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s shows. The 1960s were a period of mass upsurge, much like the 1930s and our current time. The civil rights movement and the opposition to the war in Vietnam generated unprecedented levels of political activism among young people, and SDS grew mightily among white students, approaching an estimated 100,000 members at its peak. Much like DSA and the earlier Socialist Party youth section, the vast bulk of the SDS recruits were new to politics, making it a rich hunting grounds for small, disciplined ultra-left groups.

One of these was the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). Founded in 1962 after splitting from the Communist Party, PLP was initially supportive of Maoist China but would soon decide that even Mao was insufficiently communist for their tastes. It would then position itself as the most dogmatically Stalinist sect on the U.S. Left.

By 1966, PLP was recruiting inside the SDS, where it urged members to adopt its ultra-Stalinist politics and seize control of the SDS organizational infrastructure. PLP's efforts at taking over SDS set off a destructive cycle, producing counter-factions that included a group that later became the Weathermen. Within a decade, the SDS would be destroyed.

Herein lie the dual dangers of entryism. On the one hand, it poses a threat to the organizational integrity of an open and democratic organization. Entryism is the sectarian equivalent to a hostile corporate takeover designed to split or seize control of its target organization. At a minimum, it seeks to poach members new to politics who may not be aware of the stratagem being employed. On the other hand, it disrupts the internal democratic processes of that organization, which depend on members engaging in honest debate and deliberation over policies and political strategies.

Entryists enter all debates and votes not with an open mind and a willingness to be persuaded, but with the express intent of advancing a political line that has already been decided in advance. Such tactics can quickly poison democratic political cultures, especially when opponents resort to the kinds of tactics they did in SDS.

To be politically effective, democratic socialist organizations need to develop methods of unity in action. These include open and full discussions of issues, democratic decision-making processes, and a commitment by all not to impede or undercut decisions once they have been democratically made. When entryist sects function as a disciplined "party within a party," they undermine that unity in action.

Just as DSA's founders remembered what the Trotskyists did to the Socialist Party in the 1930s, its first generation of members saw what Progressive Labor did to SDS in the 1960s. Two organizations that gave the Left its best chance to exercise real political power in the U.S. had ended disastrously, in large measure because of sectarian entryism. (These techniques similarly sabotaged a promising national movement of socialist-feminists in the 1970s.)

DSA's Constitution singles out members "under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organizations" for possible expulsion to prevent these very outcomes. The drafters chose their words carefully: they do not specify a political belief or even membership in an organization, instead targeting those who aim to form a "party within a party" like the Trotskyists and the Stalinist PLP before them. This language has everything to do with ensuring the survival of an open, democratic institutions and absolutely nothing to do with "Cold War" politics.

The Socialist Alternative understands this, despite its claims to the contrary. After all, SAlt is the progeny of one of the best-known entryist projects in international socialist history, the Militant Tendency of the British Labour Party. From their founding in 1964 to their expulsion in the 1980s, these Trotskyists operated as a disciplined "party within a party" inside of Labour, using the entryist tactics described above.

SAlt was founded as Labor Militant in 1986 by members of the British Militant Tendency who had moved to the United States as part of an organized effort to create a Trotskyist international. (It adopted its current name in the late 1990s.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the organization has splintered into several smaller factions since its founding amid personality conflicts, and there now exist competing internationals, although SAlt remains the largest group in the United States.

Why, then, is it trying to join DSA? SAlt's own statement indicates that it opposes the very strategy that has allowed DSA to grow over the last four years—campaigns to elect democratic socialists to office, using the Democratic Party ballot line—so it would be hard to make a case for a political convergence. In this light, SAlt’s call to eliminate any barriers to entryism in DSA constitution is telling.

Openings for socialists don't come along often in United States: only three times in the last 100 years has the Left had a change to make a major political breakthrough. DSA, with its rapid growth and electoral victories, could be central to such a breakthrough. Which is why we must acknowledge the deleterious role entryism played in the radical movements of the 1930s and 1960s. If we are to succeed where past generations have failed, it is vital that we not repeat their mistakes.

Bill Barclay, Leo Casey, Jack Clark, Richard Healey, Deborah Meier, Maxine Phillips, Chris Riddiough and Joseph M. Schwartz
One-Click Shopping Has Brought American Workers to the Brink - In his new book “Fulfillment,” reporter Alec MacGillis chronicles how Amazon came to exemplify American inequality. Tue, 30 Mar 2021 13:25:00 -0500 A historic union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama officially came to a close on Monday. Now comes the tallying of votes. The election represents the first large-scale effort to organize an Amazon warehouse and a landmark moment for the labor movement in the U.S. South. If the majority of votes are in favor of unionization, the roughly 6,000 workers of the facility will be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

Predictably, Amazon—the country’s second-largest employer—has made considerable attempts to undercut the campaign, including heavily-funding anti-union propaganda, changing traffic light patterns to deter canvassing and even paying workers to quit. Regardless of the outcome, national attention on the drive, along with Amazon’s aggressive anti-union tactics, signal the growing popularity—if not strength—of the U.S. labor movement.

If American labor is having a moment, reporter Alec MacGillis’ new book Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America could serve as an instructive text. MacGillis carefully lays out some of the country’s worst economic problems and points to their causes, showing that while Amazon isn't solely responsible for the woes of the working class, it has become a major source.

Think back to one year ago, when America began buckling under the pressure of the pandemic. In spite of nationwide economic precarity, Amazon’s stock price was rising sharply as it barreled its way toward record-setting sales and its most lucrative year ever. As MacGillis points out in his exposé on the e-commerce giant, “Amazon was flourishing more than ever before at one of the lowest moments for the country as a whole: the fates of the company and the nation had diverged entirely.”

While people stayed at home and ordered weighted blankets and toilet paper online, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos profited—within a single two-week period in mid-April of 2020, his wealth increased by $25 billion. Jockeying with the likes of Elon Musk and Bill Gates for the status of the world’s richest man, Bezos has earned a reputation as a tax-dodging techno-libertarian who loves dogs, bananas and outer space. In 2018, he commented on his vast wealth, stating, “The only way I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel.”

“The space stuff is just an expression of a certain lack of interest in the realities and troubles and cares of the world we all inhabit together,” MacGillis tells In These Times. An award-winning journalist and a senior reporter for ProPublica, MacGillis is wary of presenting himself as a Bezos expert. When asked about the billionaire’s February announcement that he was relinquishing his position as the company’s CEO and transitioning into the role of executive chair, MacGillis says he suspects the significance of the move is overstated. Given Amazon’s global dominance and pandemic profits, it’s unlikely that Bezos’ title change will dramatically alter the course of the company.

Fulfillment didn’t start out as a book about Amazon. MacGillis was initially interested in writing about regional inequality. In 2008, he traveled around the country reporting on that year’s presidential election. The experience brought him to overlooked towns and cities where industries had dried up and economic stagnation had set in. While this inequality can often be chalked up to an urban-rural divide, MacGillis found a divide amongst cities, too, “between a handful of winner-take-all metropolises and a much larger number of left-behind rivals.”

In examining how some places could do so well while others languished, he found that the problem could be better understood by looking at the country’s largest online retailer. Along with taking readers through the precipitous rise of Amazon, MacGillis reports on the people and places left behind in a country increasingly divided by staggering inequality and extreme concentrations of wealth.

The term “hyper-prosperity” appears throughout the book, an expression MacGillis employs to describe the turbocharged growth found in the cities benefiting most from high-tech capitalism. He outlines the history of Seattle, from its origins as a rugged 19th-century natural resource outpost to one of the country’s most expensive metropolises, a title earned in part by hosting Amazon headquarters, where some employees work in spherical conservatories (referred to by The Stranger as “Bezos balls”). The company occupies more than 35 buildings and over 8 million square feet in Seattle, amounting to what MacGillis calls “the largest urban corporate campus in the country.”

Reporting on Washington D.C.—where Bezos bought a $23 million home, then dropped another $12 million on a renovation that included 25 bathrooms—MacGillis tracks how a steeply-priced real estate market has made the nation’s capital uninhabitable for most low-income and working-class people. The author notes a similar predicament in nearby Arlington, Virginia, where plans are well underway for Amazon’s second headquarters, a $2.5 billion project with a planned architectural centerpiece likened by The Verge to “a glass poop emoji covered in trees.”

Writing about displacement, MacGillis describes how America’s most affluent cities are wrangling over how to address serious shortages of affordable housing. “Oddly absent from these debates was the broader context,” he writes, “that these cities had become so expensive because so much of the country’s growth and prosperity has been clustered in so few places.” In both hard-hit towns and hyper-prosperous cities, the message is clear that life would be better if wealth were more evenly distributed.

If Fulfillment is any indication of the current state of the country and where it’s headed, things look especially grim for workers outside of America’s exclusive centers of affluence. To illustrate the opposite end of hyper-prosperity, MacGillis provides readers with glimpses into the country’s interior, where areas formerly sustained by manufacturing are now dealing with regional economic collapse—and endemic poverty. In states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, well-paying jobs have been replaced by precarious, low-wage positions at Amazon warehouses. While the company profits from generous government subsidies, reports have shown that many of its workers rely on food stamps to eat. Dangerous working conditions—including robot-punctured cans of bear spray and fatal forklift accidents—add to the company’s dystopian aura, as does its practice of automatically firing workers via an algorithm.

By strategically undercutting retailers throughout the country, Amazon wiped out many of its brick-and-mortar competitors throughout the second-half of the previous decade. As both independent businesses and national retailers disappeared, so too did jobs. At the same time, abandoned malls and strip plazas led to what MacGillis describes as a “self-reinforcing” trend. As opportunities for buying goods in a physical space decreased, more people turned to online shopping. This trend accelerated as Covid-19 ravaged the country. For many Americans, Amazon has simply become the cheapest, most accessible option.

As the pandemic drags on, Amazon’s predominance continues to close in. “The one-click mindset has had a massive boost,” says MacGillis. While America’s fixation with convenience has been exacerbated by e-commerce, the author says this problem is also compounded by end-users who have an overreliance on Amazon’s services. He hopes the book will serve as “a wake-up call to the general American consumer, especially the sort of liberal-minded Americans of the upper-middle class.” As he points out, a survey done in 2018 found that Amazon was the most trusted institution in the country among Democrats, ahead of government, universities, unions and the press. For Republicans, it was the third most trusted national institution after military and police.

“In upending how we consumed—the ways that we fulfilled ourselves—[Amazon] recast daily life at its most elemental level,” MacGillis writes. Reading Fulfillment, it’s hard not to be struck by descriptions of worker exploitation and economic disparity. Amazon’s ascendancy feels like an indictment of our entire country—and making matters worse is the fact that the company has become absurdly difficult to avoid. With more than 110 active fulfillment centers throughout the country, there’s now an Amazon warehouse within 25 miles of about half the U.S. population. The company owns Goodreads, Audible, Twitch, Zappos and Whole Foods. It recently ordered a fleet of 100,000 vehicles and is developing plans for drone delivery. It also hosts a vast swath of the internet via Amazon Web Services, the world’s largest cloud computing provider.

MacGillis’ reporting led me to pay extra attention to the Amazon-branded packages and envelopes stacked up in front of people’s homes. I remembered how strange it seemed when dark-gray Amazon Prime vans started appearing in the city I live in, New Orleans, then noted how normal they now seem. At a gas station in the suburbs, I spotted an Amazon Hub Locker next to the propane tank exchange. I pulled out my phone, looked at a map, and saw there were at least a dozen identical lockers within a 15-minute drive.

The union drive in Alabama is a reminder that Amazon’s ubiquity is predicated on exploited labor. While the workers in Bessemer are seeking better working conditions and higher pay, they’re also demanding respect. Their struggle is not limited to the U.S. South or to Amazon warehouses. Workers throughout the country are being overworked and underpaid while wealth is consolidated by a small number of people in a select few places. Fulfillment confirms this fact, and encourages us to ask ourselves how we can collectively work toward building more fair and just systems of work and commerce.

“This book is not a solutions book,” MacGillis says, “but it does leave one with the implicit understanding that if you want to deal with huge regional imbalances then you're probably going to have to deal with the economic concentration itself.”

Andru Okun
Violence Against Asian Women Workers Is All-American - Two weeks after the March 16th attacks, we must continue the work to dismantle centuries-long, harmful narratives about Asian women. Tue, 30 Mar 2021 13:00:00 -0500 Violence and hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities have increased by 149% during the pandemic, spurred by anti-China rhetoric regarding the coronavirus from former President Donald Trump and other politicians.

Particularly vulnerable are Asian women, targeted at the intersection of misogyny, racism, and xenophobia in U.S. society, who account for 68% of all reports of anti-Asian incidents over the past year. AAPIs who are working-class, immigrants, elderly, sex workers and/or undocumented are also at higher risk.

The shootings in the Atlanta area two weeks ago, in which six of the eight people killed were Asian women, is best understood in light not only of a year of accelerating harassment and violence, but also a long legacy of stigmatization and fetishization that has often benefitted white men.

In the United States, racialized disease narratives scapegoating Asian women have deep roots. As waves of Chinese immigrants arrived on the West Coast in the mid-19th century, raising fears of the “yellow peril,” public health officials developed racist and sexist “theories” linking Asian people with physical (and moral) disease. Even though women comprised less than 10% of the Chinese population in the U.S., they were singled out for blame.

In San Francisco, for example—where Chinese immigrants made up more than 15% of the population at the time—officials who had failed to mitigate smallpox, tuberculosis and syphilis crises in the city blamed Chinese women instead, regarding them as disease-spreading prostitutes who tempted white men into sickness. According to Nayan Shah’s book, Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the police chief of San Francisco even “encouraged the public health authorities to devise a plan to ‘herd’ Chinese women to a distant location where they would not ‘offend public decency.’ ”

This stereotype led to the passage of the Page Act of 1875, one of the earliest pieces of federal immigration legislation. Ostensibly an anti-slave labor law, it prohibited the “importation of women into the United States for the purposes of prostitution.” Given the prevailing view of Asian women as all pursuing the “lewd and immoral purposes” banned by the act, the legislation barred the majority of women from China, Japan, and “any Oriental country” trying to enter the United States. The Page Act was followed, in 1882, by the more comprehensive Chinese Exclusion Act, which essentially halted Chinese immigration into the country. Immigration laws passed in the early 20th century allowed immigration officials to deport Chinese women (still viewed as prostitutes) who had already entered—or even been born into—the country.

“Lawmakers and law-enforcement officers tried to keep out and control Chinese prostitutes not so much because they were prostitutes as such (since there were also many white prostitutes around plying their trade) but because—as Chinese—they allegedly brought in especially virulent strains of venereal disease, introduced opium addiction, and enticed young white boys to a life of sin,” writes Chinese American historian Sucheng Chan in her essay “The Exclusion of Chinese Women." “In short, Chinese prostitutes were seen as potent instruments for the debasement of white manhood, health, morality, and family life."

A similar logic—imagining Asian women as a threat to white men, and as only existing for sexual purposes—also guided the U.S. military during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century. After the United States occupied Manila, the military checked women for sexually transmitted diseases as a way to help ensure sex for U.S. soldiers in what Vanderbilt history professor Paul Kramer calls the “military-sexual complex.” (The Army, notably, did not conduct health inspections for men, because “subjecting men to venereal inspection was believed to be intrusive, humiliating, dishonorable and ‘demoralizing,’ ” Kramer writes.)

While Asian Americans’ position in U.S. society has shifted over the past century, with the emergence of the “model minority” myth that elevated Asian Americans to a quasi-white status, women are still commonly stereotyped as submissive, exotic and hypersexualized. The model-minority stereotype casts Asian Americans as smart, wealthy, and law-abiding, and women in particular are seen as subservient and compliant, attributes that are often sexualized in relation to Asian women.

Hollywood and other media depictions of Asian women continue to reproduce the racist and misogynist legacy of U.S. imperialism. This “China doll” stereotype is perhaps most notoriously illustrated in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War movie Full Metal Jacket, the pop culture origin of the phrases “me love you long time” and “me so horny,” later popularized in the song “Me So Horny” by 2 Live Crew.

Chinese American filmmaker Debbie Lum dedicated her 2012 documentary Seeking Asian Female to analyzing this Asian fetish. In her interviews with men who posted personal ads exclusively directed to Asian women, they talk about how Asian women are “subtle and quiet” and “give more consideration to how the man feels than ... themselves.” As Lum notes in an interview with NPR, “growing up as an Asian-American woman, you can not live without encountering so many men like the main character of my film.”

After the March 16th shootings in Atlanta, police reported that the white gunman claimed to have frequented massage parlors for sex, telling them that he had a “sexual addiction” and killed these Asian women to abate his “temptation.” The shooter appeared to blame the women working at the massage parlors for enabling his self-diagnosed addiction, and, viewing their bodies only as objects for his use or not, decided to eliminate them. The next day, Capt. Jay Baker, of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, said the suspect “understood the gravity” of his actions and had had “a really bad day.” This gender-based violence and the apparent sympathy the shooter received from the sheriff’s office echo the public officials who protected white men from the consequences of their actions over a century ago.

Since the shootings, many Asian women have come forward to tell their experiences of public sexual harassment and racialized fetishization, from white men who exclusively date Asian women (popularly referred to as having “yellow fever,” a disparaging throwback to conceptualizing Asian women’s bodies as disease) to racist catcalls to the expectation of subservience and docility. Asian American journalist Karen Ho recalls on Twitter the time a “prominent white male broadcast journalist” said she “shuffled like a concubine” after she gave a lecture to undergraduates. Asian American sociologist Wang Yuen, author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism, shared in an interview after the shootings, “I’ve actually been asked if my anatomy is different … [as if Asian women are] somehow even physiologically different from other women.”

The shootings emerge from this relentless hypersexualization, fetishization and stigmatization of Asian women’s bodies. This story is the violent outcome of a larger problem.

A 2017 Harvard survey suggests nearly one in 10 Asian Americans have experienced sexual harassment because they are Asian. Asian women students are both more likely to be sexually assaulted during college than white women and less likely to report the assault, in part due to social and cultural norms that discourage Asian American women from openly discussing sex. In the workplace, Asian women and other women of color face significantly more harassment than white women or men because they are subject to both sexual harassment and racial harassment, which often go hand in hand. More than one million Pacific Islander and Asian American women work in jobs that pay below $15 an hour, especially food services, nail salons and massage parlors, and many of them are immigrants, making them particularly susceptible to workplace exploitation.

By casting all Asian Americans as wealthy and privileged, the model minority myth obscures the vulnerabilities faced by Asian Americans working in low-wages roles, and the specific vulnerability of Asian women. Belief in the model minority myth even among labor movements has resulted in the exclusion of Asian Americans from progressive conversations about the future of work. It erases the history of Pacific Islander and Asian American labor organizing among plantation workers on the Hawaiian Islands, for example, and later in the railroad and garment industries.

Labor protections are especially important for Asian sex workers who have been marginalized and criminalized. Some groups have responded to the Atlanta-area attacks by calling for sex-trafficking investigations into the massage parlors, for example, but these investigations pose further harm to workers there. The grassroots coalition Red Canary Song—an Asian migrant sex worker rights group—argues that anti-human trafficking strategies that rely on collaboration with police harm (rather than protect) sex workers.

“Decriminalization of sex work is the only way that sex workers, massage workers, sex trafficking survivors, and anyone criminalized for their survival and/or livelihood will ever be safe,” Red Canary Song wrote in a statement following the shootings. When workers in these industries suffer abuse, their status deters them from seeking police aid; when they do report harassment or violence, they are frequently ignored.

Gold Spa massage parlor, one of the workplaces attacked on March 16th, has previously been the subject of stings by the Atlanta Police Department, which resulted in the arrest of 11 women sex workers.

Police raids at sex workers’ places of employment—or places suspected of employing sex workers—are common, and often use anti-trafficking claims as a guise for arresting sex workers and seizing, detaining and deporting undocumented people and migrants. For example, in November 2019, a six-month undercover investigation in Florida resulted in 104 arrests: 28 sex workers charged with prostitution, 63 workers charged with soliciting prostitution (a first-degree misdemeanor that can land someone a year in jail or a hefty fine), and only three arrests that led to human trafficking charges.

The way in which police violence is inflicted in the name of anti-trafficking is exemplified by the 2017 tragedy of Yang Song, a 38-year-old Chinese sex worker in New York. Yang Song fell to her death attempting to evade arrest during a police raid at her massage parlor. She had previously gone to the police for help regarding abusive clients—reporting an assault by a man who said he was a police officer—but they never took her concerns seriously, according to Song’s immigration attorney. Red Canary Song formed as a mutual aid response to her death.

Though it has not been verified whether the women killed March 16 were sex workers, the shooting illustrates how the criminalization of sex work endangers people, especially people of color, who work in sex work or adjacent industries, such as massage parlors. Asian advocacy organizations and sex worker groups are responding to the violence in Atlanta by organizing for stronger protections for the workers most vulnerable to violence and demanding that conversations around protecting Asian people center on community resilience and solidarity rather than state or police intervention.

“We see the effort to invisibilize these women's gender, labor, class, and immigration status as a refusal to reckon with the legacy of United States imperialism, and as a desire to collapse the identities of migrant Asian women, sex workers, massage workers, and trafficking survivors,” the Red Canary Song statement reads.

Thousands of demonstrators have gathered at vigils and rallies across the country after the Atlanta shootings. Mutual aid efforts have so far raised more than $2 million for the two sons of Hyun Jung Grant, a single mother killed in the shooting. Similar funds have been set up for the other victims.

Red Canary Song's statement calls for awareness of and respect for Asian massage and salon employees, and demands that the "legal working rights of Asian massage workers must be protected."

“The lives of Asian massage workers must not be lost in vain!” their demands continue.

Clara Liang
Get the Federal Government to Fund Union Organizing. Now. - The most obvious and brilliant idea to revive organized labor, fast. Tue, 30 Mar 2021 09:43:00 -0500 Though you wouldn’t know it from the actions of the federal government over the past half century, it is the stated policy of the federal government to "encourage collective bargaining." It's right there in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Unions and their political supporters have typically taken this to mean that collective bargaining rights should be legally protected, and the fight to achieve that simple goal never ends. But as the popularity of unions relative to business hits an all time high, the time has come to interpret this directive more expansively. Because the reality is that there can be no collective bargaining without unions. Unions require organizing, and large scale organizing requires money. The money for this organizing can come from the federal government. We need to start demanding it.

Scarcely one in ten American workers are union members. That figure has been declining since it peaked shortly after World War II. It has fallen by half since the early 1980s, as the Reagan era burst into full gear and the four-decade-long explosion of economic inequality began. You may have seen the chart showing the share of income going to the top earners rising in perfect parallel with the decline of union density, the one chart that more than any other explains the state of America today. This inequality—the massive trend that underlies most of our country’s most serious problems—will not be reversed until organized labor is strong again. Union density must first stop going down, and then it must start going up. Way up, and fast.

Why is it so hard to make that happen? Well, part of it is the fact that labor law in America has been hammered into shape by business interests with the goal of weakening labor and making unions hard to build and maintain. The PRO Act, passed by the Democratic U.S. House, would go a long way towards changing those laws. But whether it becomes law or not, the case remains that unions will have to organize not tens or hundreds of thousands but millions of new members in order to move the needle on a national level. The limiting factor to accomplishing that is not public sentiment—polls show that tens of millions of workers would like to join a union if they could—but rather the raw ability of America’s unions to organize on such a large scale. Simply put, unions don’t have the resources to organize that many people. They don’t have enough organizers. And they don’t have enough money to hire and deploy those organizers. If they did have that money, and they deployed it wisely, there is no doubt that union density would finally turn around.

Take, for example, the Amazon warehouse union drive in Alabama that has so captivated the world. The union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), has flooded that warehouse with organizers, and other unions have thrown in organizers as well. All this, to try to unionize around 6,000 workers. Amazon has 1.3 million workers, and hundreds of warehouses across the country. The RWDSU says it has received a thousand inquiries from other Amazon workers interested in organizing. Do they have the organizing resources to run, say, ten or twenty or fifty more warehouse campaigns like the one in Alabama simultaneously? No, they do not. Not because they don’t know how, but because there are simply not enough organizers to do it, and there is not enough money in union budgets to hire the vast army of organizers necessary to do the job. Not even at Amazon—a single company.

Unions are funded by member dues, but those dues do not start coming in until a first contract has been signed. That means that organizing new unions requires a large up-front investment of resources that is gradually paid back over time. Not even the biggest unions can front the money to organize a million new workers, despite the fact that the money would eventually come back in the form of dues. But you know who could give us that money without breaking a sweat? The federal government. No problem. A billion dollars to hire the organizers to unionize a million new workers is out of the reach of any union, but it is just a rounding error to Uncle Sam.

This is not welfare. This is an investment in the ability of workers to collectively bargain, which, as you recall, is a priority of the government. It is also an excellent investment in the promotion of social and economic equality—handing money to the working poor is only a momentary solution, but helping those working people get a union gives them a tool that will allow them to gain money and power for decades to come. I do not want the federal government to pay all the operating expenses of a union, or to pay the six-figure salaries of union presidents. I want the federal government to provide the money necessary to organize new union members on a scale that will benefit everyone. A simple, direct investment with well-understood tangible benefits. Most good union organizers make modest salaries, work extremely hard, and achieve surprisingly powerful results. A billion dollars a year could revolutionize the balance of power between labor and capital in America. I challenge you to find a better deal anywhere.

When you consider the fact that every industry in America has a well-funded lobbying program designed to extract money from the federal government, it is shocking that unions have not done this already. (Christian Sweeney, the deputy organizing director of the AFL-CIO, said he knows of no such efforts to get government organizing money.) Unions, of course, do all sorts of business with the federal government, and lobby for all sorts of laws and perks for their members. Airline unions just won tens of billions of dollars to cover member salaries during the pandemic, and unions just won an $86 billion rescue of their failing pension plans in the latest relief bill. Unions can get money from the government. They just do not focus in an honest way on the question of how to achieve large-scale organizing. But they could.

While researching this, I learned that I am not the first person to come up with this brilliant (and obvious) idea. Will Bloom, a labor lawyer in Chicago, wrote an essay in 2017 calling for the government to subsidize labor organizing. His suggestion was that a grantmaking board be established under the NLRB or another agency which would fund organizing projects. One can also imagine funding with strict guidelines going directly to major unions, or even to a central organizing body created by the AFL-CIO to fund major organizing campaigns. In any case, the specific disbursement structure is less important than the fact that money is flowing from the government into labor organizing.

Bloom told me he sees no legal reason why this funding could not exist—if it came in the form of government grants, it would just be reported by the union on its disclosure forms like any other grant. I also asked the labor lawyer Brandon Magner about this idea, who told me “I am unaware of any obvious legal obstacles that would bar such subsidizing or invoke a strong court challenge.” In other words, the barrier to getting this money does not seem to be a legal one, but rather a political one.

At our present political moment, the failure of political will and imagination here actually rests on the shoulders of organized labor itself. Joe Biden has shown himself to be the most pro-union president in decades. The Democratic Congress and the Biden administration have shown themselves to be willing and able to appropriate trillions of dollars in social spending to promote the same sorts of goals that an increase in union density would achieve. On top of that, Congressional earmarks—pet funding programs that each Congressperson can request be added to bills—are coming back, meaning that labor-friendly members of Congress could be pressed to fund labor organizing projects in their own districts. It is no exaggeration to say that there has never been a more opportune time to get this money. It is equally obvious that this opportune moment will pass.

A billion dollars is nothing to the government. But America would be staggered to see what 10,000 new union organizers could do with it. Please: get this money, before it’s too late.

Hamilton Nolan
The UK's Vaccine Rollout Is the Latest Reminder We Need Universal Healthcare - Britain's vaccination rate has far outpaced the rest of the West. The triumph belongs to its National Health Service. Tue, 30 Mar 2021 07:00:00 -0500 LONDON — Dr. John Lister watched in horror as the United Kingdom’s Covid-19 mortality rate climbed above 1 per 1,000, one of the highest death rates in the world since the start of the pandemic. So, when the 71-year-old Briton was informed he would receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in late January, he could hardly contain himself.

“It was a great moment of excitement when I got the notification,” Lister tells In These Times.

Lister, a health policy expert and associate professor at Coventry University, was one of 15 million people in the United Kingdom to receive a Covid-19 vaccine before February 15, thanks to a vaccination program that has consistently ranked among the three fastest in the world. As of mid-February, the U.K. government’s tiered plan had succeeded in vaccinating roughly 80% of its healthcare workers and more than 90% of nursing home residents and people older than 70. These groups represent 88% of the country’s Covid-19 deaths and make up roughly a fifth of its population of just over 68 million.

This development marks a turning point in a pandemic response once described as “a string of failures,” which has left more than 100,000 people dead. While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has met the U.K. government’s benchmarks, the real triumph belongs to the National Health Service (NHS), the universal healthcare system of more than 1,000 hospitals that spans England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Founded in 1948 in the wake of World War II, the NHS was the jewel of the Labour Party’s social welfare state, the first of its kind in the West. Despite decades of efforts from conservatives to privatize the NHS, its three basic principles have endured: that treatment is free at the point of service, available to everyone (including non-residents) and publicly funded. The NHS vaccination program has been arguably the West’s greatest success story: By February 15, 22% of the U.K. had received a first dose compared with 11% in the United States.

Even before it began jabbing the public, the NHS had built the infrastructure for a rapid vaccine rollout. “Our system is pretty unique,” says Lister, co-founder of Health Campaigns Together, a broad coalition working to protect the NHS from cuts and privatization. “Because everybody is covered by the NHS, we have this database [that allows us] to identify risk factors in a way that no other country is able to do.”

The private-sector parts of the U.K. response, meanwhile, have failed to achieve results. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been squandered on “unusable” or otherwise inadequate personal protective equipment, and the outsourced contact-tracing failed to have its intended effect. Dr. Tony O’Sullivan, co-chair of advocacy group Keep Our NHS Public, says the decision to outsource contact tracing “led to a failure to rely on tried and tested systems that were in place with the National Health Service [based on] the cooperation between hospitals, primary care [physicians] and local [government].”

While vaccination rates in the United States are increasing, with President Joe Biden promising “enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” the rollout looks haphazard by comparison. As of early March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported just 27% of those 75 and older had received a first dose. For those 65–74, it was 28%.

Dr. James Kahn, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, attributes the trouble in the U.S. rollout to the “highly variable and disorderly” distribution of vaccines. A New York Times report from February 19 finds some states had been stashing up to 6 million doses, while other states struggled to obtain enough for their most vulnerable residents.

Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, who works alongside Kahn at the Physicians for a National Health Program—an organization of more than 20,000 health professionals advocating for single-payer healthcare—believes a centralized health database (like the one the NHS maintains) could have prevented these problems. Woolhandler is also quick to praise another aspect of the U.K. rollout: Primary care physicians contact their patients directly and can review their personal health records, as well as help assuage any concerns about the vaccine.

“Everyone having longstanding access to medical care means that, when an emergency comes up, you can mobilize that access and get everyone in,” Woolhandler says. “It’s more than just a list of names and phone numbers; it’s actually a set of relationships.”

Maryland-based pediatrician and healthcare advocate Dr. Margaret Flowers ascribes the United States’ sluggish vaccine rollout to the country’s “disjointed” healthcare system and decades of underfunding for public health infrastructure. Online registration portals, Flowers says, are often inaccessible to Black and Brown communities who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. The closure of more than 120 rural hospitals since 2010 has made it difficult for local residents to reach vaccination sites. And several private institutions have offered wealthy donors doses ahead of the most vulnerable people.

Whereas the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration and Interpol have each issued warnings about Covid-19 treatment and vaccine fraud schemes in the United States, the NHS offer of free service at point of care has inoculated the country against this kind of profiteering. “If anybody is offering to sell you the vaccine,” explains Lister, “they’re a crook.”

Now, as every adult in the U.K. is being promised a first shot by the end of July (depending on supply), Lister says one thing is clear: “What [the NHS vaccine program] really does is prove the superiority of the universal health care model.”

Natasha Hakimi Zapata
New Hampshire Republicans Are Using Covid to Ram Through Right-to-Work Legislation - Lawmakers in the state have blocked the legislation for years, but a radicalized GOP appears bent on pushing it through. Mon, 29 Mar 2021 07:00:00 -0500 JAFFREY, N.H.—As fellow Democrats reveled in Donald Trump’s presidential defeat, New Hampshire State Rep. Doug Ley (also president of the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire) watched the election results with unease. Republicans captured both chambers of the General Court of New Hampshire, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu handily won a third term.

In New Hampshire, a unified right-wing government is on a collision course with organized labor. And, aided by poor pandemic safety protocols (deterring Democratic officials from the State House), the GOP has its best chance in a generation to remake the Granite State.

Right-wing interest groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity have long pushed for conservative reforms such as so-called education savings accounts, which critics say will divert public funds toward private and religious education. But their true prize—and the greatest source of consternation for unions like the American Federation of Teachers—is a Senate bill known as SB 61.

SB 61 would make New Hampshire the 29th right-to-work state in the country, creating what Ley calls an “entering wedge into the Northeast.”

Right-to-work laws, which originated in the Jim Crow South, prohibit unions from negotiating contracts that require dues from non-union members for the benefits provided by the union—in practice choking off union funding. Over the past decade, the laws have expanded into labor strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin. New Hampshire has debated becoming a right-to-work state since former President Reagan took office, but more labor-friendly Republican state officials have resisted.

Legislators like Democratic State Rep. Brian Sullivan say there is now a new extremism in the Republican caucus. The Free State Project—“an effort to basically turn [New Hampshire] into a libertarian island”—is part of a larger ideological shift that is, he says, “definitely growing.”

Campaign spending has helped shape the New Hampshire legislature, too. A report in the New Hampshire Union Leader finds political action committees contributed nearly $100,000 to Republican state Senate candidates by exploiting a loophole that allows special interests to make multiple contributions. In this case, every contribution was traced to a single advocacy group, the New England Citizens for Right to Work, and to its out-of-state donors.

Glenn Brackett, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, says legislators who accepted “out-of-state money” should have to answer to the public. “[It was] an abdication of their sworn constitutional duties to the citizens of New Hampshire and their constituents,” Brackett explains. “Right to work is not an organic program. … It’s being driven completely by out-of-state special interests, and [people] are accepting basically campaign contributions for their votes.”

New Hampshire also has a requirement for legislators to attend sessions in person, despite the risks posed by Covid-19. That requirement could pave the way for right to work this year, despite past defeats. “We have a lot of Democrats that are not going to the general sessions because of concerns about Covid,” according to Democratic State Rep. Dan Toomey. “If everything were normal, I wouldn’t be worried about [right to work] at all.”

House Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Renny Cushing (who has stage four cancer), sued Republican Speaker of the House Sherman Packard over the requirement, alleging Packard violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to make remote accommodations for legislators with serious health risks. But a district court dismissed the suit February 22.

Toomey’s fears appear to be warranted. Other controversial bills have already advanced despite several state lawmakers being unable to cast votes, including anti-choice legislation passed two days after the district court’s ruling. According to the Union Leader, House Republicans also reversed the previous Democratic majority’s positions on education aid, gun control and redistricting that same week. The New Hampshire AFL-CIO has since distributed personal protective equipment in an effort to address the safety concerns of legislators from both parties.

Montana’s legislature voted down right-to-work legislation March 2, and a similar bill has been reintroduced in the Missouri state legislature, but New Hampshire would become the first right-to-work state in the Northeast—with potentially far-reaching consequences.

“When states like Wisconsin and Michigan went down to right to work, it was a message to the entire country that states that have a long labor tradition can be vulnerable to anti-labor legislation,” Sullivan says. “Wisconsin had the first public-sector bargaining law, and now they don’t have one.”

Although hopeful that unions and legislative allies can stop right to work and other conservative priorities, Ley is preparing for a fight.

“Labor unions lead the way,” Ley says. “The gains that we’re able to make often get transferred to and aid those who are not members of our unions. [This is] a corporate assault on working families and working people across the United States.”

C.M. Lewis
Study: “Salmon Remain on the Brink of Extinction. And Time Is Running Out.” - Between dams and warming waters, West Coast populations of wild salmon have plunged by 98%. What will it take to stop the decline? Sun, 28 Mar 2021 07:00:00 -0500 Editor's Note: This article was originally published by The Revelator, an initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity.

It’s not too hard to find salmon on a menu in the United States, but that seeming abundance — much of it fueled by overseas fish farms — overshadows a grim reality on the ground. Many of our wild salmon, outside Alaska, are on the ropes — and have been for decades.

Twenty years ago Pacific salmon were found to have disappeared from 40% of their native rivers and streams across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California. In places where they remain, like the Columbia River system, the number of wild fish returning to streams is estimated to have plunged by as much as 98%. Today 28 populations of West Coast salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

New research is helping to put the problem — and solutions — into focus. But in some cases, policy to implement changes still lags.

1. Trouble in Washington

With 14 salmon and steelhead species listed as endangered in Washington, a new report by the state declared that “too many salmon remain on the brink of extinction. And time is running out.” Four key factors, the researchers say, have been attributed to their historical decline: habitat, harvest, hydropower and hatcheries.

2. Upstream changes

Along with historic threats, there’s another new factor making salmon recovery challenging for Washington and other West Coast states: climate change. Increasing temperatures are causing snowpack declines, resulting in warmer streams that can stress or kill salmon. Additionally, more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow causes rivers to run faster earlier in the season, which can wash away salmon nests and sweep young salmon out of their calm-water habitat before they’re ready — reducing their chances of survival.

3. Ocean woes

It’s not just freshwater habitat for salmon that’s changing. A recent study in the journal Communications Biology looked at how eight populations of wild spring-summer Chinook from the Snake River Basin fared during the ocean phase of their lives. And it’s not good. If ocean warming continues, by the 2060s mortality for Chinook could be as high as 90%.

4. Ripple effect

Pacific salmon are an integral cultural resource for Pacific Northwest tribes and provide thousands of regional jobs. But the fish don’t just feed people. They also nourish freshwater and marine ecosystems, along with more than 100 species.

And for one animal in particular, the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whale (Orcinus orca), the decline of Chinook is an existential threat. It’s been long known that Southern Residents feed primarily on Chinook — the largest Pacific salmon species — during the summer. But a new study published in the journal Plos One found that Chinook were also important year-round.

5. Implementing solutions

In an effort to help the recovery of Southern Residents and help boost salmon populations in the region, conservation groups have increased their calls to remove four dams on the Lower Snake River, a major tributary of the Columbia River in Washington.

While the science supports dam removal to save salmon, putting that into action has run into a wall of political opposition — mostly from conservatives. However, a recent plan proposed by Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson to breach the Snake River dams was a rare showing of Republican support, which could signal more bipartisan efforts ahead.

Other dam removals — both large and small — have proved beneficial for salmon in Washington and other states. In California a groundbreaking project to allow rivers to flood fallow farm fields in winter has helped provide both food and rearing habitat for salmon — and has helped prove that water managers don’t have to choose between fish and farmers.

Tara Lohan
“In for a Fight": Rural Wisconsinites Resist Influx of Industrial Hog Facilities - Despite local efforts to block new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), corporate agriculture interests are legislating and intimidating their way out of accountability. Fri, 26 Mar 2021 14:00:00 -0500 This article is part of The Wisconsin Idea, an investigative reporting initiative focused on rural Wisconsin.

In spring 2019, Lisa Doerr learned that staff for a large-scale hog farming company were asking people in her neighborhood to sell land for a facility in Polk County, Wisconsin.

Doerr, a resident of Polk County, owns and operates a hay farm for small scale livestock.

“We produce forage [hay] for small protein producers. For small cattle and sheep,” says Doerr.

“Our county is really special,” says Doerr. The county has hundreds of small meat producers, and small family-run and owned processing centers. “So the meat that is produced, processed and sold is all small family owned operations, and that is extremely rare. It’s an intact food system.”

But the survival of that local economy is not guaranteed.

Having saturated much of neighboring rural Iowa and Minnesota, the corporate hog farming industry is— as Doerr puts it— “trying to get to fresh areas.”

In addition to establishing operations in Polk County, a company called Cumberland LLC is currently planning to establish large breeding and slaughtering facilities in neighboring Burnett County. The pigs would be owned by Smithfield Foods, a Chinese owned company and leader in the corporate hog farming industry.

During 2019, Smithfield tripled its pork exports to China. The industry is known for centralizing the food system, offering workers poor working conditions and low wages, and polluting the communities where they operate facilities. Numerous Smithfield plants have recently become the subject of controversy for their poor working conditions during the pandemic.

“The low value of labor happens [here]... Then they actually do the more value added processing in China,” Doerr tells In These Times. “Then they’re just leaving us with the production end and the manure.”

The push by Smithfield and Cumberland LLC has sparked a backlash locally, as some residents rise up in opposition to what they see as an exploitative business venture. The County Board of Supervisors has become a focal point in community resistance to the expansion of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the area.

“Here we are this little county, and we’re part of this global food chain essentially. And basically the proposal is we’re the toilet and they get the food,” says Polk County Supervisor Amy Middleton. “And to me it’s not what Wisconsin farming is about. We’re not about these large factory operations….It could be the tip of the spear for sure. I feel like it is.”

“I am very opposed to global agriculture policy,” adds Doerr, “not opposed to China or the people of China.”

This corporatized food production threatens a proud local agricultural economy. Large-scale hog farming, which has been linked to local water pollution and public health risks may also jeopardize local freshwater systems already under pressure from global warming and pollution.

“We’ve got creeks and wells drying up,” says Doerr.

Community members have also pointed out the risk of disease that CAFOs pose.

“Factory farms are also harbingers of large amounts of bacteria,” wrote Melanie Weberg, a Polk County resident, in an October memo to the County Board, “It has been predicted by health officials over and over that the next pandemic will be a zoonotic disease more virulent than our current Covid-19 and will be released from a factory farm.”

In response to public opposition to Cumberland LLC’s proposals, Polk County issued a temporary moratorium in October 2019 on the development of hog farming facilities. Burnett County, also facing an expanding corporate hog farming industry, set a moratorium in 2019, which remains in effect.

Polk County’s moratorium on the development of CAFOs was up for renewal in September, 2020.

In addition to the moratorium, the Polk County Board of Supervisors discussed a new ordinance, designed to regulate the industry by creating a county permit process in line with federal environmental regulations. The ordinance would still allow hog manure to be spread up to 25 feet of local lakes, and through an exemption, Doerr says, “doesn’t protect the [towns] that are targeted by the industry.”

Even this modest reform drew opposition from industry groups.

The day before the vote, Venture Dairy Cooperative, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce — three groups that represent the CAFO industry and frequently lobby the state legislature— sent the board an explosive letter, threatening supervisors with criminal felony charges if they passed the laws. (Venture Dairy’s attorney David Crass works for the law firm Michael Best Strategies that was found to have donated $15,875 to a group that promoted the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Heller Farm Inc, whose President and CEO Cody Heller is Treasurer for Venture and was Vice President of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance in 2018, donated a further $2,000.)

“If supervisors enacted the Proposed Ordinance and Proposed Moratorium, they would be unlawful, unenforceable, and be in excess of the county board’s authority,” the letter read. The county, the authors of the letter wrote, “has been preempted by state law.” To pass the laws with the knowledge that they were unlawful would be interpreted, they argued, as “misconduct in public office”— a felony offense.

“They dropped that in our lap hours before the board meeting,” says Middleton, who is on the board.

“My first reaction was to roll my eyes at it,” says Middleton. (A similar letter had been sent to Burnett supervisors in 2019.) “But as I started talking to other supervisors, [I became] more and more concerned that night as I saw other supervisors kind of taking it to heart.” In the end, the Board passed the ordinance to regulate the industry, but voted 7-7 on the moratorium, with the Polk County Chairman Chris Nelson breaking the tie against extending the moratorium.

“Instead of us talking about the moratorium, and how to protect our community, and how to make sure that these large factory farms are not taking advantage of our community, [the letter] turned [the conversation] into ‘is this legal or not legal,’” says Middleton. “It had I think the intended consequence.”

After the vote, one supervisor told Wisconsin Public Radio that he had voted against the moratorium because he feared he could lose his federal pension if convicted of a felony. Another told the Wisconsin State Farmer that the “county’s hands are tied.”

The letter, formally addressed to the Polk County Board, serves as a warning to communities around the state who oppose the spread of CAFOs.

In Crawford County, where residents and local officials are mulling what they can do to push back against the implementation of similar farming operations, the letter has raised fears that the county could be sued if it delays a proposed hog facility.

Currently, state legislatures have full authority to strip local governments of any powers they wish using so-called “preemption laws.” Organizations representing large agricultural companies regularly invoke such legislation to prevent communities like Polk County from deciding how to regulate business locally.

This means counties and municipalities are limited to figuring out how to mitigate the impacts of potentially destructive projects. For instance, there’s currently a fight in Polk and Wisconsin over whether or not local governments have the power to force corporations to take out pollution bonds to pay for any future disasters they create, such as manure spills. (Costs would otherwise fall on cash-strapped local governments.)

The state has even pushed the burden of conducting scientific research onto county governments, to justify any local concerns— a tall task given the lack of funding for local governments in the state.

In Polk, the lack of legal power for local governments means the county only has a say in where CAFOs are established. “Point blank, you cannot ban a CAFO from your county,” explains Doerr. “You have to have somewhere that they can build a CAFO.”

The ordinance that Polk’s board ended up passing in September exemplifies this dynamic. The “bad ordinance,” as Doerr calls it, works within the state’s regulatory process to assert some protections like requiring public hearings and new permit conditions. If the county passed a regulatory law to add a few new requirements to the state process, Middleton explains, “at least [the community] can have a hand in it.”

Polk’s new regulatory ordinance, which governs land zoned by the county, says that only certain lands can get swine facilities. It also establishes requirements for hearings and “conditional use permits” for facilities on those lands, and restricts eligible CAFO sites to 11 out of the county’s 24 townships. Of the 11, the new regulations — which themselves do little more than affirm that CAFOs must adhere to local waste management law—would only apply to three of the townships, leaving the remaining eight not covered by the county ordinance at all.

Doerr says officials and residents in Burnett have begun to refer to unlucky townships as “sacrifice zones.”

Following the passage of the “sacrifice zones” ordinance, tensions have risen in Polk.

Mike Anderson, chairman of Johnstown, one of the three townships in Polk County currently zoned for CAFOs, and which contains Ojibwe reservation land, says the industry would be “in for a fight,” if they tried to build something in Johnstown. “Piss me off and see what happens,” said Anderson.

Doerr, whose Town of Laketown is one of the eight left unprotected by the ordinance, has worked to get her township to adopt a moratorium on large livestock facilities in 2019, and is working with others to pass their own.

Meanwhile, fed up with rabble rousers, Polk County Chairman Chris Nelson has begun to crack down on public comments at board meetings.

A week and a half after the ordinance was passed, Nelson placed Patrick Mcelhone Sr. on “a list” to be banned from ever giving public comment in the future after Mcelhone Sr. lashed out against Nelson and the board for backing off of the CAFO moratorium.

“Why have you made these oppressive resolutions? Is it because of fear of a lawsuit from a CAFO conglomerate? … Are you just going to lay down without a fight? Grow a pair,” Mcelhone Sr. said.

Rural Wisconsin is not alone. Over the past decade, the Wisconsin legislature has engaged an all-out attack on local democracy, including targeting the political power of Milwaukee and Madison.

Local governments in Wisconsin have been barred from establishing rent control, inclusionary housing, municipal broadband, and virtually any ordinance that impacts employer-employee relations. That means no local minimum wages, paid sick leave, overtime, equal pay for equal work regulations, banning of the box, fair scheduling or virtually any ordinance that protects private sector workers.

“Unless you’re infringing upon peoples’ fundamental rights, local communities should be able to govern themselves,” argues Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. “These state laws are all about helping factory farms, companies, and giving a slap in the face to social movements and progressive change like a living wage and decent, or humane family leave policies. So, we view it as a democracy issue, we view it has a justice issue.”

From the residents of “sacrifice” towns in Polk and Burnett counties to low wage workers in Milwaukee, the most marginalized people bear the brunt of Wisconsin’s centralized power structure that disempowers protective local law making.

Simon Davis-Cohen
A Year in the Life of Safeway 1048 - America says it respects front line workers. These grocery workers tell a different story. Fri, 26 Mar 2021 07:00:00 -0500 Tekele Abraha does not run marathons, but she wears Hoka shoes. This thick-soled choice of elite runners can cost more than $150 a pair, nearly a day’s pay for Abraha, who wears them to cushion the long hours she spends on concrete floors, six days a week. She hopes the shoes will stave off the grinding joint and back pain that afflicts many of her coworkers.

Abraha is a grocery worker. The shoes mark one of many unseen tolls of her job.

We talk in an airless, subterranean breakroom at Safeway store 1048 in Arlington, Va., a typical, prosperous suburb of Washington, D.C. The low-slung store sits partially submerged next to an underground parking garage on the main drag of the Rosslyn neighborhood, full of gleaming office buildings and apartment towers that look like office buildings. The store’s staff is as diverse as Embassy Row, just across the Potomac River: Black and white, Eastern European, East African.

Abraha, a 42-year-old single mother of two, grew up in poverty in Ethiopia with her mother and four brothers, unable to afford three meals a day. She came to the United States at 17, without knowing English, and worked three fast food jobs. Sometimes, she slept in a McDonald’s to save time. Eventually, Abraha scraped together $15,000, enough to buy her mother a six-bedroom house in Ethiopia, which fills her with pride.

For the past 18 years, Abraha has worked at Safeway. Six days a week, late into the night, she helps run the front of the store. Her diligence is matched by the toll it has taken on her during the pandemic. In fear of bringing home coronavirus, she has not kissed her two college-age children since March 2020, even though they live with her.

“Every time I go home, I was insecure,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna take something with me. I’m gonna get sick. I’m gonna lose my children.’” Tears well up in her eyes when she contemplates the past year. But she is not one to complain.

“I don’t have any choice,” she says. “That’s life. I have to pay the bills.”

For many people, the past year has been a shocking break from the normal rhythms of their personal and professional lives. And then there are grocery workers.

The lives of grocery workers have continued as usual, but with an added dose of deadly risk. They never really signed up for it. Though less celebrated than nurses or paramedics, grocery workers are quintessential frontline workers—the ones who have kept showing up so the rest of us can survive.

Like their counterparts across the country, the employees of Safeway 1048 have kept on working through a dangerous year. Their employer has given them mask policies, more cleaning in stores and a fleeting dose of hazard pay, but their lived experience has shown them the safety net has holes big enough to fall through. The experience has left many of them bitter.

Safeway is neither an outlier on safety issues nor a uniquely bad employer. It has given out personal protective equipment and established a contact-tracing program with up to two weeks of quarantine pay. The company also says it intends to offer the vaccine to every worker as soon as their city or county makes it available to grocery workers. The workers at Safeway 1048, despite being eligible per state guidelines, had not been offered the vaccine by early March. (The company said that “our pharmacies in northern Virginia are under the direction of the [Virginia Department of Health] not to vaccinate anyone under the age of 65.”)

A review of policies at some of Safeway’s biggest direct competitors—Walmart and Costco, as well as grocery conglomerates Kroger, Publix and Ahold Delhaize (Food Lion, Giant, Stop & Shop)—shows that Safeway’s policies on hazard pay, sick leave, masks, worker safety and vaccinations are very much in line with the industry. It almost seems as if the grocery industry’s employers, customers and regulators have settled on a set of standards without bothering to ask the workers whether they think those standards are adequate.

The one thing Safeway’s workers have going for them is their union. They have seniority rights, pay minimums, guaranteed vacations, a grievance procedure and other basic protections their non-union counterparts lack. Safeway has been unionized since at least 1935, when it signed an agreement with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters, which later merged with the Retail Clerks International to form today’s United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Today, more than 6,000 Safeway workers in D.C. and the surrounding states are part of UFCW Local 400. Since Virginia is a so-called right-to-work state, no worker is required to pay union dues; about three-quarters of the 65 employees at Safeway 1048 are dues-paying members.

Their longtime union rep is Heith Fenner, a solicitous, ruddy-faced man who roams the store greeting everyone by name and checking in on new issues weekly. A former grocery worker who has served as a union rep at seven different grocery chains, Fenner is a virtual encyclopedia of the industry’s problems.

“Safeway runs a skeleton crew,” he says. “They run almost short-handed, particularly in key positions. When you get a small [Covid-19] outbreak in the store, that leaves you shorthanded. Even worse, it becomes a catastrophe for trying to run the store when you have four or five people out.”

It is not hard to imagine how this corporate dedication to reducing costs could create a strong disincentive for Safeway to pay close attention to safety measures, because safety measures can be expensive. Paid sick leave while workers quarantine will inevitably raise labor costs. Employees say, over the past year, their store’s management has shown little institutional concern for worker health and safety, consistently prioritizing profits and corporate reputation over the lives of workers.

Anthony Sistrunk, a fast-talking, 39-year-old D.C. native who has worked for Safeway since he was 17, had a rough 2020.

“The year started off fucked up,” Sistrunk remembers. In January 2020, just as he was coming off a cancer scare, he had to have his appendix removed. He returned to work after recovering, but one day soon after he felt so dizzy he went home after only a couple of hours. He slept all day, woke up at night feeling bad and passed out on his floor. After a trip to the emergency room, Sistrunk got the bad news: He was the first employee of Safeway 1048 to test positive for Covid.

Dehydrated, coughing and his head throbbing, Sistrunk went on Facebook and made a quick post so his friends and coworkers would know he tested positive. He was primarily concerned about the health of his coworkers—masks were not yet mandatory, even for employees.

“And then,” Sistrunk says, “all hell broke loose.”

Shortly after his social media post, he says, he received a call from the Safeway human resources department, asking pointedly if he was “badmouthing” the company.

“I was offended,” Sistrunk says. “I felt like Safeway was trying to stop any kind of bad media. They didn’t want any kind of uproar.”

Sistrunk was so sick he didn’t return to work for seven weeks. He lost his sense of taste and smell and had trouble breathing. “The worst thing was the fatigue,” he says. “I felt like someone snatched my soul.”

Fenner called him every other day to check in. Sistrunk did receive paid sick leave—two-thirds of his average wage—as a benefit of his union health insurance plan. “God forbid if you’re not a union member,” Sistrunk says with the tone of someone looking back on a narrowly avoided disaster. “You’re screwed.”

When Sistrunk began with the company 22 years ago, he says it felt like an exclusive and highly valued job. He had to write an essay with his application about why he wanted to work there. There were employee outings: summer cookouts, bowling parties, crab feasts. But all of that faded away as the years went by and, it seemed to Sistrunk, management focused more and more intensely on profits. He sounds wistful when he reflects on his years there. “It’s not that family bond anymore,” he says.

Safeway is one of 20 grocery chains owned by Albertsons Companies, whose biggest investor is the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, named for the three-headed dog of Greek mythology that guards the gates of hell to make sure no one gets out. According to Andrew Whelan, a spokesperson for Albertsons, “When we learn that an associate has a confirmed case of Covid-19, our crisis response team conducts a close contacts investigation and may recommend that additional members of the store team self-quarantine.” The company offers up to 80 hours of “quarantine pay” for those who meet its standards. Whelan says the store is “appropriately staffed.”

Safeway uses the definition of “close contact” provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of an infected person per day. It’s an extremely high bar in a store where everyone is moving around. Consequently, employees and the union say management at Safeway 1048 rarely tells a worker to quarantine.

I got a firsthand view of this dynamic in action. When I went to the store to talk with workers, nearly everyone was discussing that an employee from the cut-fruit section had tested positive. I saw where the fruit-cutting happens: a windowless corner of steel tables in back by the breakroom, where several people work at once. If I worked in such close quarters with a Covid-positive person, I would certainly be worried.

Fenner says, after management was alerted to the situation by the union, they “cleaned and sanitized” the store but did not order any quarantines or alert employees to the positive test. Whelan disputes this, saying that one employee was quarantined due to “close contact.” Whelan also says the company informs the staff when an employee tests positive, but workers say they usually hear through word of mouth or from the union.

Then there is the matter of customers who shop without masks. Every employee I spoke with cited this persistent minority of customers as a threat to their health, particularly because workers are not empowered to do anything about the situation except to offer a mask to customers.

“I’ve been called ‘bitch’ so many times” for asking customers to wear a mask, Abraha says. “I wish the company took it seriously.”

The Safeway store does not have a security guard, meaning regular workers and supervisors become de facto security guards and mask-checkers. Calling the police doesn’t feel like an option. “By the time you call the cops,” Sistrunk says, the maskless shoppers “are out of here.”

Whelan acknowledges that while the store has signs telling customers to wear masks, “If a customer refuses to wear a mask and to leave the store, we permit the customer to continue shopping in order to avoid conflicts that would put the store director or other employees and customers at risk.”

Jason Winbush, a bearded, 44-year-old food clerk who has been at Safeway for 28 years, has a wife and five children at home. The combination of management’s failure to alert employees directly about positive tests or to find a way to make customers wear masks has convinced him the company does “not at all” take the safety of its workers seriously. Winbush has even used some of his vacation days to get time away from the store because the mask situation worried him so much.

“It’s starting to get [to be] too much,” Winbush says. “It’s stressful. Very stressful. It’s written on the wall: Money is more important than your employees. And that’s not right, cause you don’t know if we have preexisting conditions, if my kids have preexisting conditions.”

Stuart Allison, a man with a pleasant Southern drawl and the enormous hands of a heavyweight boxer, has been cutting meat at Safeway 1048 for 25 years. That is less than half of the time he has been working for Safeway, where he began as a meat cutter in 1968. (After more than a half-century with the company, Allison makes $24 an hour.) He is 79, works six 8-hour shifts a week, exercises regularly and appears perfectly capable of wrestling a man half his age.

Allison remembers seeing people die during a flu epidemic in the 1940s, and those experiences have left him a remarkably calm person. Even though Allison contracted a mild case of Covid in summer 2020, he has never allowed the events of the past year to throw him into a panic. “Things come up like that; they don’t disturb me,” he says. “Whatever it is, I just take it. I guess I’m more a positive thinker than a negative thinker. This is not my first time being around a virus.”

But even Allison, a pinnacle of equanimity who has little fear for his own health, finds his hackles raised by what he sees as management’s lax attitude toward customers shopping without masks in the midst of a pandemic. “They were saying, ‘You gotta wait on people that don’t have masks on,’” Allison says. “I think management is going along with what their superiors are telling them. But that doesn’t work, to me. … I told all the checkers, ‘If they come in without a mask, don’t wait on ‘em.’”

The stress over worker health reached a high mark in the days surrounding the January 6 Trump rally and storming of the U.S. Capitol. Many of former President Donald Trump’s supporters who had come to Washington for the event stayed in the hotels that dot the blocks around the Safeway in Rosslyn. Many of them came into the store with an aggressive disregard for safety.

“We had a really rough time that week,” says Michele Miler, a 61-year-old file maintenance manager who has served as Safeway 1048’s union shop steward for the past 25 years. “They were coming in without no mask.”

In fact, the employees I spoke with remember the week of January 6 as one in which they were left to fend for themselves. As our nation’s political insanity invaded their workplace, some workers say they refused to serve maskless Trump supporters; one says she just argued with the maskless and endured insults; most said they were constantly uncomfortable and disappointed that Safeway did nothing to save them.

Sistrunk says that when he asked a manager to intervene, the response was that the company didn’t want bad press in an age when everyone has a cell phone.

Abraha says some of the Trump supporters ignored her request to wear a mask; one even handed her his used mask and demanded she throw it away for him. “If I call the police, I don’t know what’s gonna happen, because of politics,” Abraha says. “What about if I lose my job? ... It’s crazy.”

The pandemic has been good for business at grocery stores. Everyone remembers the empty shelves in spring 2020 as people stocked up, just in case. Albertsons saw its sales rise a remarkable 47% in March of 2020; by December, year-over-year sales were still running 12% higher. All of these sales were enabled by the fact that thousands of grocery workers, just like those at Safeway 1048, continued to come to work, putting their own health at risk to ensure stores could sell food.

What did those workers get in return? At Safeway, they got a $2 “hazard pay” wage bonus from March 15 to June 13, 2020, with two one-time bonuses adding up to about $350 for full-time employees (less for part-timers, the vast majority of the workers). In other words, hazard pay ended when the country was seeing around 22,000 new daily cases of the coronavirus. Even when cases rose to 300,000 per day by January 2021—a 1,264% increase in risk—hazard pay never came back.

Whelan, the Albertsons spokesperson, justified this discrepancy by saying, “We are not currently offering appreciation pay at this time because businesses large and small across our operating areas have reopened and resumed operations.”

This argument is a bit of sleight of hand—right down to the use of the phrase “appreciation pay” rather than hazard pay. First, state governments ignored public health risks and reduced business restrictions (which fueled Covid surges and increased the number of hazards for workers). Then, companies used those policies as an excuse not to take more action or offer workers more compensation. Poof: Thanks to poor public health policies, businesses made their own obligations disappear.

The flagrant hypocrisy of praising frontline workers as heroes while denying them payment for their heroic work is a textbook example of corporate greed and the primacy that shareholders have over labor.

And that so few grocery workers emerged from 2020 with long-term raises is a textbook example of union workers squandering their labor leverage. The moment certainly marks a national failure by the UFCW, the nation’s biggest food and retail union, which has been unable to secure any real lasting gains for its members, even as public regard for grocery workers soared.

Every Safeway employee I spoke with thought that, at a minimum, the $2 hazard pay increase should have become permanent. They wish everyone would wear a mask. They wish they did not have to rely on word of mouth to learn someone from work has Covid.

They live in fear of getting their families sick. They rise at 4 a.m., work six days a week and casually discuss the many ways the job has destroyed their bodies.

They do this whole routine for decades for, if they are lucky, a $20 wage.

If they had stopped—if they had shut down the nation’s groceries—there would have been panic. But they worked.

We ate.

From the perspective of the workers themselves, 2020 was a year of swallowing harsh insult after harsh insult. When I asked Marilyn Williams, who has worked at Safeway 1048 for the past eight years, what she thought of the quick disappearance of hazard pay, she paused for a long moment, then said, “Ha. Ha.

“That’s my reaction.

“Ha. Ha.”

Hamilton Nolan
If You Want Student Loan Debt Cancellation, the Time to Act Is Here - The Debt Collective is embarking on a week of action to tell the Biden administration that it’s time to cancel every cent of student debt. Thu, 25 Mar 2021 16:46:00 -0500 On March 18, the Biden administration’s Department of Education announced that it will cancel $1 billion in federal student loan debt held by 72,000 borrowers who were defrauded by for-profit universities. These students received subprime educations and worthless degrees, and then were burdened with debt often in the tens of thousands of dollars—all while predatory companies and their investors made millions.

The only reason this debt is now being cancelled is because debtors got organized. In 2015, students from for-profit, now defunct Corinthian Colleges Inc. launched the country’s first student debt strike, refusing to pay their loans because they had been scammed by their school. First, they fought the Obama administration, and then the Trump administration. As a direct result of these efforts, this latest victory means the U.S. government has been forced to abolish nearly $2 billion dollars in debt to date.

Now, we need to continue what they started. We must fight to make sure that all $1.7 trillion of student debt is cancelled. We have a window to make history. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said on March 12 after the massive American Rescue Plan was passed, “[I]f you care about student debt cancellation, it is go time for you. You need to mobilize, and now is the time to organize to create political pressure.”

And we are. From March 29 through April 4, debtors and our allies will be taking part in the Debt Collective’s week of action to cancel ALL student loan debt. Events are planned in New York City, Chicago, Albuquerque, Denver, Knoxville, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and many more across the country. We believe that now is the time to get involved and take to the physical and digital streets, because we can’t sit back and wait for elected officials to act on their own. We have to push them by holding events, rallies, marches, phone banks and other actions to create pressure and grow our fight.

While corporations and the rich get bailed out when they face crises, nothing is ever simply handed to the working class. But we can win—if we organize together. Every progressive policy in this country was fought for: it took the civil rights movement to inch this country closer to racial justice; women marched and took action to win right to vote, and it’s only thanks to workers striking and taking militant action that we have an 8-hour workday and weekends. Debt cancellation is no different. Debtors must unite to have our voices heard and our demands met.

President Biden campaigned on a promise to forgive $10,000 of student loan debt for everyone, along with more relief for select borrowers. That’s a positive step, but his plan still leaves out millions of people and doesn't address the root of the crisis.

It’s time to cancel all student loan debt and build a pathway to tuition-free college. Cancelling $10,000 or even $50,000 (the amount advocated by Democrats including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren) is better than nothing, but if that’s all Biden does, he will leave tens of millions of Americans drowning in debt. Fortunately, Biden can cancel all federal student loan debt right now using the authority he holds from the Higher Education Act.

Higher education in the United States is fundamentally broken. Federal and state governments are slashing education budgets, and tuition costs are ballooning. Between 2008 and 2018, tuition exploded by 37%, and university costs grew by nearly 25%—but states spent, on average, 20% less on higher education. Meanwhile, the costs of rent and electricity continue to increase while the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour remains stagnant.

The math is simple: there’s a gap, and it’s being filled by debt. Over the past 10 years, the amount of student loans increased by more than 100%. Some point to the government’s existing loan repayment and forgiveness programs as solutions for this overwhelming debt crisis. But, in spite of millions of applicants, only 32 people have qualified for income based cancellation.

Let’s go back to the 72,000 defrauded students who will benefit from the disappearance of that $1 billion of debt. Sadly, countless others are still suffering: 90% of borrowers who were scammed by their schools say they were denied relief. The federal government's current fixes simply don’t work.

A diverse coalition of voters supported Biden in his presidential campaign because this country requires deep transformation, and because he committed to cancelling some student debt. I’m a South Asian Muslim from a working class family, and I currently hold over $70,000 in student debt. The last thing I want to see is a return to “normal” that endangers our communities and the tattered thread of democracy we still possess. It’s time to address the actual problems that created the crisis we’re in right now. Doing so will help working people from all walks of life.

Organizing around debt has taught me how widespread this problem is. People whisper it to me quietly, as if they are the only ones struggling, when student loan debt actually impacts a huge number of us: teachers, nurses, grocery store workers, artists, web developers, researchers, journalists, people who never graduated, unemployed people. And those who don’t have this debt? Many of them did before, so they know how hard they worked to pay it off and why no one else should have to—or they know someone who does who is suffering: their sister, brother, child or cousin.

Debt shouldn’t be our shameful secret. It can be our collective power and shared struggle. When an issue affects 45 million people, it isn’t an individual error. We did what we are all told to do: go to school, try to get a degree, and then try to find a well-paying job. But the system isn’t designed to actually work for working people.

Student loan debt is a racial justice issue. The largest burden of debt is held by Black and brown people. A deep legacy of structural racism in this country has denied these communities the chance to build intergenerational wealth, so they must take on more loans to go to school. Once in the workforce, Black and brown people tend to make less. First you start with nothing, and then you are penalized for trying to improve your life. This is probably why 40% of Black voters said they won’t vote for a candidate who opposes eliminating student loan debt.

Student loan debt is also an intergenerational issue, because now six million people between the ages of 50-64 and 870,000 people over the age of 65 still hold student loan debt. For retirees, instead of relaxing after a life of hard work, they’re having their social security garnished over student debt payments they defaulted on because they were too poor to pay.

Finally, student loan debt is an economic justice issue. Rich people don’t have to borrow to go to college, but almost everyone else does. Student loan debt heavily impacts poorer states and regions, both rural and urban. For instance, residents of Tennessee, where there will be two protests next week, have over $29 billion in debt.

No wonder full scale debt cancellation is supported by a majority of voters, across political parties. Debt cancellation is the deeply needed stimulus that our country wants and needs. It would put billions of dollars into our economy and create thousands of jobs. It’s so impactful that polling shows 1 in 5 Republican voters have said they'd consider voting for Democrats if Biden cancelled debt.

We can be certain that the banks and loan companies are not whispering in shame about how many lives they’ve destroyed. Instead, they’re proclaiming that their profits matter most, releasing farcical reports with dubious data about how cancelling student loan debt won’t help poor people, and lobbying their way to billions more in subsidies for themselves and their bottom lines.

If they feel no remorse for manipulating and continuing to exploit 45 million of us, why should we feel shame for taking on debt to improve our lives and our communities? Instead, let’s organize together to cancel our current debts and ensure future generations don’t have to suffer like this.

Next week, debtors and our allies will come together online and offline, in cities and Zoom rooms across the country. We will have marches and rallies, assemblies of debtors sharing stories, banner drops and other actions.

Every action will look a bit different. But each of them will be powerful, because anytime people come together to change things, we are one step closer to justice and liberation.

Umme Hoque
The 'Trashman' Who Became an Influencer - Instagram sensation Terrill Haigler reflects on his newfound micro-celebrity and the crucial work of city sanitation departments. Thu, 25 Mar 2021 16:22:00 -0500 In the latest instalment of "Working People," we sit down and chat with (former) Philly sanitation worker and Instagram sensation Terrill Haigler—or, as listeners may know him, "Ya Fav Trashman." Terrill's incredible and inspiring story took an interesting turn during the Covid-19 pandemic when he was working for the Philly sanitation department and started an Instagram account where he would post updates from the job and answer residents’ questions about trash pickup. With his platform, Terrill has helped spread awareness of the hard work sanitation workers do, the conditions they face, and what residents can do to clean up their neighborhoods.

Maximillian Alvarez
Why the Left Sees an Opening for a ‘Realignment’ in U.S. Politics - Left-wing groups such as the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats are reviving the old idea of realignment, with hopes of provoking new political transformations. Thu, 25 Mar 2021 14:38:00 -0500 In the second week of November 2018, the Sunrise Movement made a sharp transition. Throughout the prior year, the youth-based climate organization had clocked long hours working in support of Democratic candidates in an array of selected districts — walking miles to knock on doors, identifying sympathetic voters and getting people to polls. Now, dozens of Sunrise members sat on the floor in the Washington, D.C. office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Scores of others spilled out into the hallway, lining the walls of the office corridor and carrying signs in the group’s signature yellow and black that read “Green Jobs for All” and asked “What Is Your Plan?” The demand of the sit-in was that the Speaker of the House endorse the Green New Deal, an ambitious legislative program to decarbonize the economy — something Pelosi was hesitant to embrace. In short, Sunrise had abruptly gone from campaigning hard for the Democratic Party’s members to fiercely protesting its leaders.

Casual observers could be forgiven for being confused or thinking there had been a sudden change of strategy. There hadn’t.

The action reached a climax when one of the newly elected congresspeople that Sunrise had supported, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, decided to join them. It created a striking image: a member of Congress who had not even been sworn in, standing in the center of a circle of nonviolent dissenters, confronting her own party’s leadership. The civil disobedience became a media sensation, propelling the Green New Deal into the spotlight of national politics and markedly changing the terms of debate over climate policy.
One might ask what the thinking behind Sunrise’s unusual two-step might be: What big idea would lead the group to doggedly support Democratic candidates one week, then stage a protest in the office of the party’s most senior official the next? And could such a maneuver lead down a coherent path toward political progress?
In a word, the idea in question is “realignment.”

The concept of realignment is not new. It has a history that runs through the works of some of the country’s most renowned mid-century political scientists, as well as through the careers of figures such as legendary organizer Bayard Rustin, eminent socialist Michael Harrington, and conservative culture warrior Newt Gingrich. It runs today through Ocasio-Cortez and other social movement-oriented Congressional Democrats who announce the intention, in AOC’s words, of “bringing the party home” — and who in fact may take it places it has never gone before.

“Realignments happen when a long-term social transformation, a crisis, and the right leader converge to change the landscape,” writes political journalist George Packer in The Atlantic. The word often resurfaces with the inauguration of new presidents. Particularly with his 2008 election, which brought a super-majority for his party in the Senate, Barack Obama was seen by some commentators as ushering in a permanent Democratic majority. That is, until Donald Trump broke through the Democrat’s “Blue Wall” in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and flipped at least some voters in the white working class, giving rise to speculation that his win was the realignment of lasting consequence. Biden’s election has been seen as less historically weighty than those of his predecessors. Nevertheless, his success in passing the landmark $1.9 trillion recovery bill led New York Times columnist David Brooks to dub him a “transformational president” and prompted New York magazine’s Eric Levitz to contend that “the law could plausibly mark a leftward realignment in American policymaking.”

Such claims are not unique. Left scholar Mike Davis notes that, while it is mostly old-timers who remember when the idea of realignment was at the peak of its popularity, the notion that certain moments represent fundamental ruptures, reshaping what ideas parties stand for and what constituencies they represent, has a stubbornly persistent appeal. Even as academics debate the theory’s validity, he writes, “the thesis of the ‘critical election’ that durably realigns interest blocs and partisan loyalties remains the holy grail of every actual presidential campaign.”

Outside of presidential elections, realignment has another meaning for social movements promoting far-reaching change. For groups like Sunrise and Justice Democrats — known for its critical role in recruiting Ocasio-Cortez and propelling her insurgent primary campaign in 2018, as well as for helping to support other members of “the Squad” — it is a way of thinking big. Rather than being content to remain in the role of always pushing from the outside or supporting a few handpicked politicians, the concept encourages them to aspire to a more fundamental shift in power relations. It is part of a strategy to form and advance a bloc that can become a dominant force in the U.S. political system. It means, effectively, building a bold new party within the shell of the old.

Could such a feat be possible? What lessons can we learn from realigners of the past? And what is the practical consequence of movements naming this as a key strategic goal today?

A once and future dream

The academic theory of electoral realignment has been called “one of the most creative, engaging, and influential intellectual enterprises undertaken by American political scientists during the last half century.” It was first advanced by Harvard professor V. O. Key, Jr. in his 1955 article “A Theory of Critical Elections.” Later, it was developed by scholars including Walter Dean Burnham, a student of Key’s, and James Sundquist, a former speechwriter for Harry Truman. The theory proposed that America’s political party system has evolved in punctuated bursts — often 30 to 40 years apart — and that certain vital elections end up defining their eras by mobilizing fresh groups of voters and putting new issues at the fore of the public agenda. For the likes of Burnham and Key, “critical realignment” involves intense, disruptive moments in which partisan allegiances are reshuffled, majority coalitions fall, and previously uncompetitive minority parties gain new acceptance of their politics.

Think of contests such as the election of 1860, which marked the ascendance of Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party and presaged a civil war over slavery; or 1896, when business-funded Republican William McKinley defeated populist-aligned William Jennings Bryan; or 1932, which gave rise to the New Deal order. These elections had generational consequences. They set the mold for the type of governance that followed in subsequent decades: After New Deal liberalism became dominant, even its critics were forced to govern within its core assumptions about the role of government. Likewise, after the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, even Democrats acquiesced to the idea that "the era of big government is over.”

Each of the major claims of academic realignment theorists has been disputed, with a variety of other scholars arguing that American party development is in fact more gradual and that punctuated 30-year cycles cannot be reliably predicted. But even as this academic debate unfolded over the decades — and indeed even before many of its key entries were written — the concept of realignment took on a life of its own both in popular commentary and in the world of political organizing.

In the early 1960s, a number of leaders on the democratic socialist left, including Michael Harrington — whose 1962 book, “The Other America,” helped to animate the Kennedy administration’s War on Poverty — set out to intentionally fracture the Democratic Party in order to build it into something better. Southern Dixiecrats had been an important part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition, but their inclusion had proven to be a devil’s bargain. Today, it is well known that powerful racist senators maintained Jim Crow by obstructing civil rights legislation for decades; less well-remembered is the critical role the “Southern Vote” played in pushing anti-union legislation such as the Taft-Hartley Act. As historian Paul Heideman explains, “Figures from Walter Reuther to Martin Luther King, Jr. noticed that the Democratic Party contained within it both the most liberal forces in official American politics, like Hubert Humphrey, and the most reactionary, like Strom Thurmond ... [T]he Dixiecrats had prevented the Democrats from assuming a coherent political identity as the party of American liberalism.”

Harrington and others believed that, if “Southern racists and certain other corruptive elements” could be pushed out, the Democratic Party could resemble something like a mainstream European social democratic party. Harrington argued in 1962 that a union of welfare state liberals, organized labor, Black voters empowered by the civil rights movement, peace movement constituencies, and other progressive “conscience” voters could “forge a dynamic new coalition which will force a basic realignment in American politics.” From that time until his death in 1989, Harrington and the organizations he would help form — first the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and later the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA —would be associated with this realignment strategy.
In the mid-1960s, things seemed to be on track. With Lyndon Baines Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964, decisive Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, and organized labor at the peak of its postwar power, it seemed realistic to think that a strong social-democratic majority could be assembled without the reactionary Dixiecrats.

Bayard Rustin, another important backer of the strategy made this point in his famous 1965 essay, “From Protest to Politics.” A prodigiously talented organizer who was kept out of the spotlight due to homophobia but nevertheless served as an advisor to King and a lead planner for the March on Washington, Rustin wrote: “It may be premature to predict a Southern Democratic party of Negroes and white moderates and a Republican Party of refugee racists and economic conservatives, but there certainly is a strong tendency toward such a realignment” — a tendency, he believed, that would only grow stronger as millions more African Americans in Southern states were registered to vote.

Elsewhere, Heideman notes, Rustin further explained his thought: “If we only protest for concessions from without,” the strategist reasoned, “then [the] party treats us in the same way as any of the other conflicting pressure groups. This means it offers us the most minimum concessions for votes.” However, he concluded, “if the same amount of pressure is exerted from inside the party using highly sophisticated political tactics, we can change the structure of that party.”

The right realigns

The logic was sound. But in hindsight it is clear that things didn't quite go as planned. While the Dixiecrats did flee the party after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, social democrats struggled in the wake of the Southerners’ departure. The Vietnam War was one big reason for this. Many establishment liberals proved themselves all too willing to follow LBJ into the morass of the conflict, permanently alienating themselves from the rising New Left.

Secondly, on the labor front, realigners had envisioned backing from unionists in the mold of Walther Reuther of the United Auto Workers — a stalwart progressive who lent active support to civil rights struggles. They instead ran up against an AFL-CIO under the direction of George Meany, a bureaucratically minded labor leader who prided himself on never leading a strike and never walking a picket line. The labor federation backed hawkish foreign policy, and in 1972 the AFL-CIO declined to officially endorse the presidential campaign of Democratic nominee George McGovern. For his part, Meany was seen golfing with Nixon and members of his cabinet. Tragically, by the end of his life, Bayard Rustin had become ensconced in defending such labor officialdom; once a prominent pacifist, he took on the role of scolding radical critics of the Vietnam War.

Through the following two decades, Harrington and other leftists continued their push to empower progressives within the Democratic Party. But, in the end, it was conservatives who were able to capitalize on changing social conditions.

“Like us, the New Right believes in realignment,” wrote historian and future Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee national director Jim Chapin in 1975. Although slowed somewhat by the crisis of Watergate and then by the Democrats’ move to nominate a Southern evangelical, Jimmy Carter, in 1976, the Republicans were able by the 1980s to realize a version of the “southern strategy” famously articulated by Nixon aide Kevin Phillips. A newly aggressive assault on organized labor helped. With profit margins declining in the 1970s, segments of capital that had previously tolerated New Deal policy revolted. They joined with other corporate interests to break the unions — an attack fully backed by the White House once Ronald Reagan took office. Meanwhile, operatives such as Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation, deftly brought apolitical religious conservatives into the Republican fold under the banner of the “moral majority.”

At times, realignment rhetoric figured explicitly in this work. As one example, Weyrich acolyte Newt Gingrich convened a two-day conference of conservative leaders in 1989 devoted to discussing how to lock in a right-wing majority with a strategy of confrontation rather than bipartisanship. Responding to the event’s doubters, Gingrich argued in a letter to the Washington Post that the meeting had been an important step in bolstering a Republican Party that could “drive realignment from the presidency down to the precincts,” spreading conservative dominance “to Congress, governorships, state legislatures and local government.”

In 1976, Harrington wrote, “[T]he nation is at one of those turning points which then fix the outlines of an entire era to come.” And while hopes for realignment within the Democratic Party dimmed in the decade that followed, they did not vanish entirely. Early in the Reagan era, Frances Fox Piven, the great theorist of disruptive power, argued that mass voter registration of people on social welfare rolls could “force a party realignment along class lines” — particularly if accompanied by defiant protests over voting rights. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson’s insurgent campaigns in 1984 and 1988 presented the possibility, albeit fleetingly, that the Democrats could be remade in the image of a multiracial, class-conscious “Rainbow Coalition.”

Looking back, it is undeniable that the era’s organizers did not prevail in realizing such a prospect. And yet the failure of progressive realignment in the United States at that time was hardly unique. Social democratic efforts throughout much of the world suffered dramatic setbacks, and alternate strategies — such as creating a “Citizens Party” or building up radical factions within industrial unions — also did not yield particularly hopeful outcomes. Ultimately, the left was entering into a period of decline. In 1992, when Democratic candidate Bill Clinton captured the presidency, he would consolidate the Reagan revolution by declaring the kind of “big government” programs of the New Deal and Great Society obsolete. A generation of neoliberal, “New Democrat” leaders followed his lead and compromised their way to the center.

An age-old debate, settled?

Much has transpired since to reset the table of political calculation, but possibly nothing as immediately consequential as a 2016 campaign that defied all predictions. Prior to that time, virtually no one in America’s class of professional political commentators could have imagined that a 74-year-old, Jewish, self-described socialist who had built his political career as a Vermont independent would come shockingly close to defeating Democratic Party insider and presumptive Obama successor, Hillary Clinton.

Bernie Sanders, addressing crowds with a pronounced Brooklyn accent and calling for a political revolution against the billionaire class, rose to win 23 states in the presidential primaries — including Oklahoma, West Virginia, Michigan, North Dakota, and Idaho, all states later claimed by Donald Trump. Well after the election year ended, Sanders polled for a time as the most popular active politician in America. Then, in 2020, he made another impressive run, emerging as a frontrunner in a crowded Democratic field. Sanders won the vote in key early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada before falling to Joe Biden’s “Super Tuesday” surge.

The Sanders campaign of 2016, in particular, reinvigorated left debate about electoral strategy. At the same time, it represented something of a paradox: By running within the mechanisms of the Democratic Party, Bernie had remarkable success in mainstreaming progressive ideas, providing an attractive alternative to the marginalization typically associated with third-party bids. And yet, his failure to secure the nomination — and a perception that he was unfairly robbed by the party establishment — left many supporters nursing bitter resentment toward the Democrats, whom detractors claimed were morally bankrupt. “They have always been, they always are, and they always will be,” wrote one disaffected Berniecrat.

By the 1990s, DSA had already moved away from the traditional realignment position pursued by Harrington, and it had declined to officially endorse presidential candidates including Bill Clinton and later Al Gore in 2000. And yet, the dilemmas that the strategy sought to address have not disappeared. Chris Maisano, an editor at Jacobin, writes: “The debate over whether … electoral action should be waged on Democratic Party ballot lines is perhaps the most persistent controversy on the U.S. left.” The strong grip of corporate Democrats dampened hopes that the party could ever be remade and kindled dreams of an independent political formation — a Green, Worker’s, Progressive, or Labor Party. And yet, entrenched barriers to third parties, most notably the lack of proportional representation and notoriously stringent ballot access requirements in many states, has made the American two-party system largely impervious to outside assaults for a half-century or more.

The Sanders campaign swelled the ranks of DSA and gave rise to new initiatives including Justice Democrats and Our Revolution. Moreover, the combination of anger at the Democratic establishment and recognition of the party’s primaries as fertile ground for outsider candidates to contest — and sometimes win — has prompted a new wave of progressives to enter these elections at all levels of government, with some candidates openly identifying as democratic socialists. In the U.S. House of Representatives, this has resulted in the formation of the Squad, a group initially made up exclusively of women of color — Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota's Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — who unabashedly promoted a policy agenda far to the left of party leadership. In some instances, such as Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Joe Crowley, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, its members ousted powerful incumbents while articulating a new vision for the party.

While many activists may not think of themselves as realigners, a broad practical consensus has emerged around doing electoral work largely through the Democratic Party ballot line. Georgetown historian Michael Kazin argues that “as a consequence of his two national campaigns, Sanders and his legion of admirers embedded a growing social-democratic movement inside the heart of the Democratic Party.” Meanwhile, Maisano writes, “the political developments of the last few years have effectively settled the Democratic Party question, at least for now.” He adds: “Whether we like it or not, working-class organizers will continue to use major party primaries so long as they exist and bear fruit.”

To be sure, there remain strategic differences and debates. Among DSA members, some see a rupture with Democrats as inevitable. They advocate for building an identity and infrastructure that is as independent as possible from the Democrats, in preparation for an eventual “dirty break.” Others within DSA are comfortable with the prospect of laboring within the Democratic Party structure for the foreseeable future and even attempting to gain power over internal party machinery — moves consistent with realignment strategies of the past. As one example of this tendency, a leftist slate in the southwest recently succeeded in sweeping the top five elected positions of the Nevada Democratic Party, prompting the whole of the state party’s centrist staff to resign in dismay. Activists working in this vein often ally themselves with a wide range of other groups seeking to promote left-of-center candidates. These include newer, Sanders-inspired groups, but also others such as the Progressive Democrats of America, the Center for Popular Democracy Action, MoveOn, People’s Action, and the Working Families Party, not to mention more progressive unions, community and civil rights groups.

Each organization possesses its own orientation with regard to the future of the Democrats. But their leaders may well overestimate their ability to determine the long-term impact of their work. As trade unionist and DSA activist Dustin Guastella observes, on a certain level ideas such as “realignment” and “break” are not actually strategies. “Rather, they are outcomes of political struggle,” he writes. “They depend on how the major parties react to shifts in the electorate and organized political action: either the party is unable to heal an internal divide, resulting in a ‘break’ (like the Whig moment in the 1850s) or the party adopts the policies of insurgents in order to consolidate a new constituency (like the New Deal moment in the 1930s).”

Despite some differences among them, a robust collection of groups opposed to the Democratic Party’s centrist old guard and corporate donor base are now seeking to build independent infrastructure that can allow them to recruit and run dissident candidates. They are looking to build the social base for left ideas. And they are working to craft appeals that will allow them to draw together powerful majorities. The more successful they are, the more they will make a mark on the landscape of American party politics — even if the exact shape of that mark might be difficult to predict.

Who are today’s realigners?

Many within this social movement ecosystem do not use the language of realignment. But a few groups, such as Sunrise and Justice Democrats, evoke the idea as an important part of their vision of change. Strategists in these organizations are today’s realigners.
For Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas and communications director Waleed Shahid, the Sanders campaign offered only a taste of “what was possible in transforming the Democratic Party into a vehicle for lasting social change.” Meanwhile, Sunrise co-founder Will Lawrence expresses confidence in the usefulness of reclaiming realignment as a strategy. “It’s the secret sauce,” he said. “We couldn’t have done what we have without our understanding of alignments and factions guiding how we navigate political choices.”

So what significance does the idea of realignment have for how these organizations behave?

The lessons that can be derived from the concept’s history are filled with caveats. The academic literature on realignment is largely descriptive — seeking to understand past developments in American political history — rather than prescriptive. It does not offer a clear path forward for those seeking to organize social movements. Guido Girgenti, the media director for Justice Democrats and a co-founder of Sunrise, reflects on this challenge in the 2020 Sunrise book “Winning the Green New Deal.” “Realignments are messy, rare and big,” he contends in an essay written with Shahid. “No single person or group has their hand entirely on the rudder, and there’s no step-by-step method to succeeding.”

These concerns notwithstanding, the concept of realignment has some important practical effects for the groups that use it, giving them language to highlight a set of strategic considerations that arise as they craft an “inside-outside” approach to politics. Three of these effects are especially worth highlighting.

First, as Rustin suggested long ago, thinking about realignment encourages movement organizations to express large ambitions that go beyond forever functioning as outside pressure groups or single-issue lobbies. Instead of aiming merely to extract concessions by being the thorn in the side of elected officials and other powerholders, realigners are vying for power. Echoing Mike Davis, Girgenti and Shahid write, “The project of an era-defining realignment is perhaps the biggest goal a movement can aspire to in American politics.” In their pursuit of policies such as the Green New Deal, Sunrise and Justice Democrats seek not only to alter the accepted common sense about the solutions our society needs, but also to back up such cultural change with a reorientation of the political forces that can pull the levers of state power.

Second, the concept orients the realigners toward working within the Democratic Party, but also toward being in conflict with others inside the party’s big tent. Maintaining a majority that can defeat reactionary Republicans is important. But just as critical for these groups is the objective of advancing a specific faction within the Democratic coalition, with the aim of making that arm of the party into the dominant one. This orientation creates a marked distinction between Sunrise and a group like, say, the League of Conservation Voters. The latter generally works to get more Democrats elected (and occasionally endorses Republicans with nominally pro-environmental voting records), without pushing for a wider ideological shift in the party. Meanwhile Sunrise adopts a more confrontational strategy, focusing on electing champions and — in line with Piven — retaining direct action as a core part of its repertoire. It is willing to use both door-knocking and sit-ins as ways of influencing the party’s composition and ideology.

In his classic 1942 study on democratic politics, E. E. Schattsneider described a political party as “an organized attempt to get control of the government.” Contemporary political scientist Daniel Schlozman adds, “Because political parties organize social conflict … they also structure the possibilities for movements to achieve ongoing influence.” But in America, the peculiarity of the party system means that these opportunities are structured in unusual ways. In countries with parliamentary systems, the dynamics of realignment largely play out in debates between different political parties with distinct ideologies. These parties might then have to decide whether or not to enter into coalition governments with one another. However, in the United States, the ingrained two-party system means that tension between different factions commonly takes place within the major parties. “In any other country Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party,” Ocasio-Cortez has stated. “But in America, we are.”

Given this reality, an often-cited maxim holds that organizers should not think about the Democrats as a coherent collection of like-minded individuals. Rather, they should see the party as a terrain of struggle. As Rojas and Shahid write, “It’s not a team, it’s the arena.”
In an interview with Dissent magazine, Shahid further elaborated on this reasoning: “A good way of thinking about the situation in American politics today is that the left wing of the party — whatever label you want to use for it — is a junior partner to a senior partner in a coalition government,” he said. “The senior partner is the party of Pelosi and Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries and Dianne Feinstein. They have more power. But we are in a coalition together to get over 50 percent and keep the Republicans out of power.”

Long term, the idea is to shift the balance of power so that the left becomes the dominant faction, reversing the current roles. At that point, risk-averse political pragmatists seeking to stake out “mainstream” and uncontroversial positions will model themselves after progressives, rather than the Clintonian “New Democrats” of the past. “If you look at U.S. history,” Shahid argues, “it isn’t just ideologically driven figures like [anti-slavery champion] Thaddeus Stevens or [New Deal-era labor advocate] Robert Wagner that drive politics, but also ... people who come from the old guard of the party but see history changing beneath them. That is a really good sign for the broader trend of realignment. At least in my reading of history, that’s how change has happened: not only does the party co-opt you, but you also co-opt the party.”

Reading the clock of the world

A third consequence of thinking in terms of realignment is that it encourages activists to carefully take stock of the amalgam of social forces at play on the American political scene. Realigners often cite the late, storied Detroit organizer Grace Lee Boggs, who urged advocates of transformational change to ask, “What time is it on the clock of the world?”

One can fault past strategists like Rustin and Harrington for miscalculating how segments of capital, labor or the right would respond to dynamic social conditions. But their political plans, unlike too many liberal projects, were not rooted merely in idealism or wishful thinking. Rather, they were based on a hard look at the fault lines in the dominant parties and on a plausible vision of how a majoritarian grouping could have formed amid the social movement upheavals of the 1960s. A similarly deliberate probing of the currents flowing through America’s electorate is surely needed now.

Could there be a structural basis for realignment today? Current realigners tend to endorse the left-populist analysis that the 2008 economic crash and the lingering insecurity faced by working people has created a crisis of legitimacy for neoliberalism. In many parts of the world, traditional parties offer no adequate solutions, and so they have lost ground to insurgent groups that rally public resentment against established elites.
Of course, it is not only progressives attempting to fill the void. As in the past, the right believes in realignment, too. Conservative ethno-nationalists, playing especially on racial grievances, have shown that they can also ride the wave of disaffection; Donald Trump is by no means the least among them. Currently, fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the mounting crises of climate change have only furthered the destabilization of the previous order.

Neoliberal “New Democrats” may have once gained momentum within their party. But even arch-centrist Rahm Emanuel, former Chicago mayor and advisor to several Democratic presidents, acknowledges the terrain has since shifted. “Admittedly,” he stated in early 2020, “today’s landscape is much friendlier for progressive ideas than it was when either Mr. Clinton or Mr. Obama was running for office.” In part, this reflects the hard work that movements have already done in shaping public opinion. But it is also aided by demography. As Shahid contends, “One of the signs of realignment happening today is the generational shift. Millennials self-describe as very ideologically left compared to other generations.”

The country is also growing more diverse, with the power of older, white voting blocs eroding in the face of demographic movement toward a “majority-minority” country. These trends give hope for revival of the kind of alignment envisioned by the Rainbow Coalition of the 1980s. Along these lines, Rojas and Shahid quote historian Barbara Ransby, who writes of the Squad: “They are wisely acting as if they represent the demographic and political majority that their generation will become.”
“They are not only the future of the Democratic Party,” Ransby added. “They are the future.”

Nevertheless, Shahid warns, “I’m not someone who thinks demographics are destiny. You still have to do politics.” That means making tough decisions. While realignment might give groups like Sunrise and Justice Democrats a defined orientation in crafting their response to present political conditions, it leaves many important questions unanswered. For instance, strategists must weigh the relative importance of “mobilization” and “conversion” — whether a faction aspiring to power should focus on more aggressively activating its own base or on peeling off people previously devoted to other groups. “If the mobilization analysts are right, new voters are the key to realignment,” Piven explains in her book “Challenging Authority.” On the other hand, “if the conversion analysts are right, changing party loyalties among existing voters are the key.”

Other questions include: How to formulate a “race-class narrative” with widespread appeal? How much should left groups target moderate incumbents in strongly “blue” Democratic districts and try to replace them with progressive champions, versus pursuing a 50-state strategy and trying to win in unexpected places? Should insurgents embrace the goal of representing the true “soul of the party,” or should they reject partisan language and attack moribund Democratic Party structures as part of the establishment? How “coalitional” should they be with other groups at a given moment — including those they might not agree with fully — and how confrontational?

Even as they consider these dilemmas, the organizers can take solace in having a clear view of the task they face. “The common sense in the country is fracturing,” Sunrise teaches in its activist trainings. “We have a generational opportunity to shape it. If we don’t, the right will. Inclusive populism is about uniting the largest ‘we’ possible and winning [over] common sense beyond our own movements and issues.” Could the urgency in such a perspective drive a reordering of American politics? While some view history as a cautionary tale, today’s realigners take inspiration from past organizers who have wrestled with this grand ambition and sometimes, improbably, succeeded.

Research assistance for this article provided by Akin Olla.

This story was first posted at Waging Nonviolence.

Mark Engler and Paul Engler
At a Major Education Company, Freelancers Must Now Pay a Fee In Order to Get Paid - McGraw Hill is clawing back 2.2% of every invoice, and a worker says it feels like "wage theft." Wed, 24 Mar 2021 09:19:00 -0500 Freelance workers everywhere are subjected to a wide variety of indignities and ripoffs. They are the workers who are most at the mercy of their employers’ whims, and least able to fight back. Now, into the pantheon of freelancer exploitation comes a truly jaw-dropping policy: Forcing freelancers to pay money in order to get paid.

McGraw Hill (MH) is a multibillion-dollar educational publishing company, with thousands of employees and offices around the world. Beginning in October of last year, the company instituted a new policy for all of its freelancers and independent contractors—they are now required to pay a fee of 2.2% every time they file an invoice through the company’s invoicing system, called Fieldglass. (There is no other system, meaning the fee is mandatory.) In other words, if a freelancer does $1,000 of work for MH, they will be paid only $978. The other $22 will be taken as an “administrative fee.”

In effect, the company has imposed an across-the-board wage cut on all of its freelancers and contractors, without having to come right out and say it. An email sent to all freelancers explaining the new fee offered this explanation: “McGraw Hill has chosen to align with market standards and transition to a Supplier funded model. The 2.2% Small Supplier fee included on your invoice supports labor market compliance, administrative tasks, and the Vendor Management System (VMS) associated with payment processes.”

Likewise, the company says that under its new policy, the costs of MH complying with various laws and regulations are now being offloaded onto freelancers themselves. “Since October 2020, contractors providing services to McGraw Hill have been charged a fee to cover the cost of third-party vendors that help us ensure that each contractor meets the requirements needed to be classified as an Independent Contractor under various state laws and IRS regulations,” said MH spokesperson Tyler Reed. “We need to ensure that those classifying themselves as Independent Contractors are in fact contractors, according to state and IRS guidelines, otherwise there is a legal and financial risk to McGraw Hill and to the contractor.”

State laws and IRS guidelines were around long before last October, so it is unclear why the company decided then that it was no longer able to bear the costs of compliance. Reed did not respond to that question.

The new practice of charging workers the costs associated with normal company functions does not sit well with one longtime MH freelancer, who said that it felt indistinguishable from “wage theft.”

“This will cost me a few hundred dollars over the course of this year—not the end of the world, but still, it’s a de facto pay cut,” the freelancer said, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal. “But I can’t figure out what to do about it, except try to spread the word.”

Though the policy may be unfair, it does not violate any laws, according to the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, and labor law experts. “It’s likely that these practices are legal. There is very little regulation of independent contractor relationships, which is precisely why many independent contractors need the rights and protections that come with being an employee,” said Laura Padin, a senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project. “It’s telling that McGraw Hill unilaterally imposed this fee on its freelancers. A true independent contractor would be setting or negotiating the terms and conditions of their work.”

The ability of a major company like MH to push its own costs onto its most vulnerable workers goes to the heart of the gross power imbalance inherent in the world of independent contracting. The company’s claim that its new fee is a move to “align with market standards” is dubious. Dave Hill, vice president of the National Writers Union, which represents freelance writers, said that such a mandatory fee is “certainly not the industry standard among freelancers working in media.”

Nor is it the case that every invoicing platform charges freelancers a cut of their own invoice in order to pay them. Few people can say that more definitively than Matt Saincome, a longtime freelance writer, editor, and publisher of The Hard Times and other publications, who founded the invoice company Outvoice, which specializes in paying freelancers, and does not charge them a fee. Saincome called the MH fee “horrible,” and added “This is a pay cut.”

“It's not market standard to push admin or processing costs off on freelancers,” he said. “Employers already save money by using freelance work instead of W-2 employees. It's shameful and wrong to ask freelancers to pay the already heavily reduced administrative costs related to working with them.”

In America, the incentive for companies to offload their own costs onto their labor force is embodied in the very fabric of labor law governing the independent contractor relationship. It is, for example, why Uber drivers pay to maintain their own vehicles. Such arrangements are tempting for employers, but never benign from the perspective of workers, who are forced to accept less for no reason other than a lack of bargaining power.

"Is this McGraw Hill's 21st Century company store? No one should pay the boss in order to get paid,” said Larry Goldbetter, the president of the National Writers Union. “When McGraw Hill freelancers are ready, NWU will represent you and together, end this practice."

Hamilton Nolan
What a Right Wing Militant in Wisconsin County Politics Reveals about Extremism - A staunchly conservative county official from Green Bay doubles as a right wing militia member. Wed, 24 Mar 2021 07:00:00 -0500 This article is part of The Wisconsin Idea, an investigative reporting initiative focused on rural Wisconsin.

When rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, military veterans, government officials, and law enforcement were among those seen on display in videos and photos circulating across social media. The insurrection called attention to the presence of right wing extremism in government.

In the wake of the riots, Jim Murphy, a 73-year-old veteran representing parts of Allouez and Bellevue, Wisconsin on the Brown County Board of Supervisors, was identified as the leader of the Wisconsin chapter of an armed Christian Tea Party affiliate called “the Black Robe Regiment.” The city of Green Bay is the seat of Brown County, and home to a growing refugee population, consisting mainly of Somalian people.

In These Times has obtained screenshots and cached posts featuring violent islamophobic rhetoric from personal blogger “J. Morris” and MyMilitia account user “J. Morris”— which appear to be penned by Supervisor Murphy.

“J. Morris” has advertised Supervisor Murphy’s web design business, bragged on MyMilitia about having “run for the county board as a Christian Conservative and Won!” and made reference in another post to the chapter of the Black Robe Regiment that Murphy leads, promising to update the website.

“Let me put the record straight about Islam. It is NOT a religion. It is and always has been a Geopolitical fascist movement,” wrote “J. Morris” in a 2018 blog post.

Later, on August 11, 2020, the MyMilitia user under the same name posited that if “Communism, Socialism, Marxism, Islam and others are well known as foreign enemies...[would] a person who claims to be one and lives here or promotes their agenda not be a domestic enemy?”

Othman Atta, the vice president of the Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance, condemned the islamophobic statements.

“Anyone who has such extreme views should not be a public representative who is required to represent and serve all of their constituents,” Atta told In These Times.

The conspiracy theories disseminated by the Green Bay MyMilitia user are familiar to the Islamic community. Atta said this information comes from extreme, “pro-Christian” sites, scattered about the internet. VCY America (TV-30), a Milwaukee television station, routinely bolsters these lies.

The northeastern region of the dairy state has a history of anti-Islamic discrimination. In 2017, a man incarcerated at the Brown County Jail said that he was forced to pray next to a toilet while his Catholic peers used other facilities in the building for religious practices.

In 2014, current Green Bay alderman Chris Wery came under fire for asking a recently graduated member of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Muslim Student Association—who had emailed inquiring about voting transportation access—if she promoted or defended militant Islamic ideology. Wery has since apologized.

Barron County, in the Northwestern tip of the state, has become a central resettlement place for refugees seeking work at the Jennie-O meat processing plant. Similarly, many resettled folks in Green Bay work at meat packing plants in the city.

Awais Khaleel, Secretary for Wisconsin Muslim Civic Alliance and Dane County assistant district attorney, estimates that Brown County is among the three most populous Muslim counties in the state.

Wisconsin has roughly 50,000 Muslims, ranging from strict practitioners to cultural affiliates, according to Khaleel.

Khaleel said he wouldn’t dignify hate speech with a response but welcomes all people, in public or hiding in the shadows of online comments, to speak with local Muslim leaders, arguing that “[t]he only way to fight this bigotry is through a restorative context.”

In a 2020 post on MyMilitia, “J. Morris” claimed that he took to local elections when he “caught [the board] sleeping and replaced a Lefty.”

“Now they're stuck with me for 2 years at least. I am a conservative vote and have made the difference on several stupid lefty proposals that we shut down,” read the post.

In June 2020, Murphy voted against a referendum question asking the Wisconsin Legislature to create a nonpartisan redistricting procedure, intended to reduce gerrymandering in the state.

Murphy was among 12 supervisors who, following the 2020 presidential elections, voted for a resolution asking the state to conduct a review of election methods. (The resolution passed 12-10).

On February 17, following six months of debate, the Brown County Board passed a resolution to advance racial equity at the county-level and create an ad hoc racial equity committee, with strong support on the board and as well as from local grassroots activists. (Milwaukee County was the first county in the country to pass a similar resolution in 2019.)

Supervisor Murphy was one of nine nay votes against the resolution and the sole detractor against the subcommittee's racial equity formation.

Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach could not provide a statement regarding Murphy’s online history, citing an inability to comment on potential complaints before the ethics board.

Supervisor Murphy did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the online comments.

After users faced sweeping bans for promoting false information about the presidential election, Murphy moved the social media for his chapter of the Black Robe Regiment off of Facebook. Murphy is now active on MeWe, an alternative social platform with a history of propagating conspiracy theories.

John McCracken
The Fossil Fuel Industry Is Lining Up Behind Far-Right Authoritarians - As climate change intensifies and countries turn to clean energies, Big Oil will take increasingly desperate measures to survive. Tue, 23 Mar 2021 16:37:00 -0500 This March, the leading global consulting firm IHS Markit held its CERAWeek conference, billed as the "world's premier energy event" bringing together the "Who’s Who list of the global energy industry." The conference's keynote speaker and recipient of the Global Energy and Environment Leadership Award was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Recently, I wrote an article titled "Fossil-Fueled Fascism," on the fossil fuel industry’s financial and political support for the far-right wing of U.S. politics. But the industry’s open support for these dangerous politics is clearly not confined to one country.

The fascist movement in India

Modi belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is openly acknowledged—including by BJP officials—as the political arm of an organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The ideological ties between the RSS and European fascism go all the way back to the early days of the RSS in the 1920s and 30s, as I’ve documented in detail earlier. This isn’t just a historical footnote—it took almost 70 years for the RSS to distance itself from the openly fascist views of its early leadership.

Even if one were to give IHS Markit the benefit of the doubt for not knowing Indian history from almost a century ago, there are plenty of recent developments they should have been aware of—or else were perfectly willing to overlook.

In the year and a half since being reelected in 2019, the Modi government has moved with terrifying speed to turn India into a theocratic, ethnonationalist Hindu nation. In the northeastern state of Assam, it has started a citizenship register to determine who is a “legitimate” Indian citizen that pointedly excludes Muslims and the transgender community. The people who’ve been made stateless in their own land are being held in concentration camps.

Elsewhere, in the strife-torn Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, the BJP government has unilaterally escalated an ongoing conflict by scrapping Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and unleashing horrific human rights abuses under cover of the longest internet shutdown ever in a nominally democratic country.

The systematic exclusion of Muslims from equal rights in India became much more blatant with the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which gave selective naturalization rights to non-Muslim migrants from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.

This assault on human rights in BJP-ruled India has also extended to Dalits and Adivasis (people from the lowest Hindu castes and Indigenous peoples, respectively), political activists, and journalists whose reporting questions the government’s version of truth. Particularly horrifying is the impunity with which predominantly upper-caste Hindus have raped and murdered Dalit women—acts of violence that have grown unnervingly common in India.

The Indian farmers' revolt

All of this was before the Indian farmers' revolt.

Indian farmers are protesting against three laws that change the agricultural procurement system in India, giving corporate agribusiness greater power to depress prices and impose unfavorable terms. This is especially concerning because of the very close political ties between the ruling BJP and large corporations.

As much as 43 percent of India’s labor force works in the agricultural sector—enough to make the farmers' movement the largest protest movement in human history.

The BJP government's response to the farmers' protest is consistent with their approach to all protest and dissent: persecution of activists working in solidarity with the farmers, attacks on journalists covering the demonstrations and violent repression of the protests themselves.

None of this could possibly be unknown to CERAWeek organizers. Why then did they choose to honor the leader of a totalitarian state who's tightening his grip on a country home to one sixth of the world's population?

India as an extractivist, fascist state

To understand the possible motives for a fossil-fuel consulting firm to fete the head of a fascist regime at its annual energy industry event, we need to examine the corporate ties of the BJP.

Key among these are the close relationship the BJP (and Prime Minister Modi personally) has with Gautam Adani, founder and head of a huge business conglomerate with interests in a wide array of industries that include coal, natural gas, and fossil-fueled utilities. His company has a very questionable human rights and environmental record of its own, in India and internationally.

The company's planned Carmichael mine in Australia has become very controversial. It is an assault on traditional sacred lands of the Indigenous Wangan and Jagalingou peoples, and will be disastrous for the earth’s climate and for access to scarce water in drought-affected Queensland.

This isn’t just about the tight-knit relationship between the BJP government and one powerful billionaire. The BJP government is pursuing a supremacist political project that includes a "nationalist" claim on land and resources, to the detriment of Adivasi peoples and other traditional communities. Political and policy support for fossil fuel extractivism is a core part of this agenda.

As an illustrative example, the government announced an auction of blocks of land for expanded coal mining in 2020, without the consent of the Adivasis and other local populations. More than 60 percent of the blocks have a majority Adivasi population. Unsurprisingly, the Adani Group is a leading bidder in this auction.

The government claims that expanded coal production resulting from the auction will boost "self-reliance"—a possible prelude to characterizing opposition from the Adivasis and other impacted communities as acts of sedition. The Modi government is adept at labeling opposition to their agenda seditious, as their recent attacks on journalists and activists show.

What’s more, the government has already engaged in a systematic smear campaign to link Adivasi-led protests against resource extraction to "terrorism."

Fossil-fueled fascism is global

The fossil fuel industry's reliance on governmental subsidies and bailouts on one hand—and on ruthless state power to overcome opposition to their polluting activities on the other—is a longstanding, worldwide phenomenon.

This is true of the United States, where the industry has provided financial and political backing to extremist right-wing politics, and has benefited from (or stood to benefit from) crony capitalism in the form of deregulation, bailouts, and draconian laws criminalizing peaceful protest.

In India, we've seen how a fossil fuel billionaire has helped Modi's rise to power, and how the industry as a whole has gained from his government's policies. And in countries like Saudi Arabia, the separation between big oil and authoritarian government doesn't exist at akk. They're one and the same.

As climate change intensifies and global opinion turns more and more against fossil fuels, the industry will resort to increasingly desperate measures to survive, including backing outright fascists who support their agenda. We need to dismantle this industry—with a just transition for the workers it employs and communities it buttresses—not just for the survival of our planet but global democracy as well.

This article was produced in collaboration with Foreign Policy in Focus.

Basav Sen
Unionize Goldman Sachs - It's not a joke. It's common sense. Tue, 23 Mar 2021 08:32:00 -0500 Unionize Goldman Sachs. I do not say this to be cheeky. I do not say this ironically, nor with a winking sneer. I do not say it as a fantastical absurdity. In fact, if the employees of Goldman Sachs were as smart as they think they are, they would have unionized a long time ago.

Last week, the beleaguered first-year analysts of the fancy investment bank made news when they circulated a slide deck and survey complaining of 100-hour work weeks and inhumane working conditions that are destroying their mental and physical health. Such stories crop up regularly, and reflect the fact that even the most prestigious Wall Street banks tend to operate exactly like the most prestigious college fraternities, complete with hazing rituals and fanatic demands for loyalty in exchange for the promise of being served by future generations of slavish recruits. This sort of built-in mistreatment makes perfect capitalist sense. It selects for the people willing to endure any outrage in order to get rich, and simultaneously inculcates in them a feeling that they have “earned” their riches because of what they endured. The way these pathetic young Ivy League try-hards are treated is indefensible on human rights grounds, but then again, if they cared very much about human rights, they wouldn’t be working on Wall Street in the first place.

Yes, a union could mitigate these abusive working conditions. But that is only a secondary reason for these budding masters of the universe to organize. Goldman Sachs is the pinnacle of high finance, the place with the strongest reputation for controlling every nuance of the economic world. Yet, incredibly, in the past 150 years, none of its employees have realized the basic truth that bargaining collectively with your coworkers will always get you more, in aggregate, than bargaining alone. The bankers who work for Goldman have been leaving money on the table every single year because they do not have the leverage inherent with being able to negotiate together as a single group—the only leverage that allows the labor force of any employer, even a Wall Street bank, to extract the maximum possible share of the proceeds of a business. You would think that they would have learned this rudimentary fact during their early days at Harvard Business School, but apparently their ignorance is the price they pay for going to a school that considers labor only a cost to be controlled, rather than an identity that encompasses almost everyone.

I do not need a red-faced banker in a fleece vest to condescendingly explain to me why Goldman Sachs has never unionized despite the overwhelming logical case for doing so. I’m quite sure I can recite their explanations already: “We’re paid a lot, unions aren’t for us.” “There are a thousand people who would love to have my job.” “I can make a ton of money by rising up through the current system.” “I plan to run this place one day.” All that I hear in these excuses is a business that benefits greatly from the fact that it has successfully indoctrinated its employees to believe that they are not labor. Congratulations, Wall Street! Over the past century the management and shareholder classes of Wall Street banks have reaped countless billions of dollars in profit for themselves that they would have had to distribute to their employees, had those employees had the power of collective bargaining. Instead, each of those employees were convinced that they were the superstars, and would eventually win this race to the top, and that joining with their coworkers would only hold them back. Mathematics tells us that for the vast majority of employees, this belief is untrue. And yet it persists, because believing otherwise would make you a traitor to capitalism (even though it would also make your salary higher). It’s sad, really.

Goldman Sachs, and the entire class of well-paid, competitive white collar jobs like it, represents the purest distillation of the lie that American businesses have gotten millions of workers to swallow for decades: that solidarity is the enemy of success, and the key to winning is to compete with your fellow workers, and defeat them in a cutthroat battle for advancement. Suffer through these 100-hour weeks now, and live like a Senior VP one day in the future! Corporate America has pulled off this con by waving around the particulars of a job (Good salary! Free meals! Expense account!) to argue that it is not like regular jobs, while concealing the unavoidable structural reasons why it is, indeed, subject to the same basic dynamics as other jobs, in which the workers always benefit by being able to exercise collective power.

Many in the labor movement will say: Fuck 'em. Who cares if Goldman Sachs people aren’t smart enough to organize? The reason why this matters is not that these bankers will starve without a union—it is that part of building a truly powerful labor movement is getting everyone into that movement. In the sort of coherent, well-functioning labor movement that America desperately needs, the dues money would flow not just from workers on the bottom, but from those on the top. It can then be directed towards the area of greatest need. You get the dues money from the bankers, and use it to organize the janitors. Everyone is in it together. Let the peons of Wall Street turn their allegiance away from the owners and towards their fellow working people. That’s how a strong labor movement should work.

Brothers and sisters of Goldman Sachs: join us! You have nothing to lose except your goofy fleece vests, execrable work hours, and lack of a union wage premium. And we’ll even let you keep the vests. Union democracy is real.

Hamilton Nolan
Colectivo Could Soon Become the Largest Unionized Coffee Chain in the U.S. - Workers at the coffee chain are resisting an aggressive union-busting campaign in their fight to organize. Mon, 22 Mar 2021 14:14:00 -0500 On March 8, Lauretta Archibald marked her three-year anniversary as a baker for Colectivo Coffee Roasters, an upscale Midwestern coffee chain based in Milwaukee and Chicago.

In her years at Colectivo, Archibald had been responsible for making artisan bread in bulk, sometimes baking 1,000 loaves a night. It was arduous work, and Archibald says that she did not always have the support—or even materials—that she needed: the bakery was understaffed for stretches of time, there weren’t enough cooling racks and one of the ovens leaked the smell of gas through the kitchen.

When workers at the coffee chain first announced their plan to unionize with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Archibald—who eventually became a strong supporter of the union—wasn’t sure how she felt about the idea. “I didn’t know enough about unions to really say one or the other.” Still, she says, “I knew that something had to change.”

Workers say that last-minute scheduling, chronically broken equipment, and rapid expansion of the company brand spurred the union drive—while issues around Colectivo’s handling of Covid-19 popularized the campaign.

Now, Colectivo’s staff of about 375 workers faces an election that will decide the fate of a union drive nearly a year in the making, with ballots due on March 30 and counted in the first week of April. If the campaign is successful, the workers will make history: the industry is almost entirely unorganized, and Colectivo would become the largest unionized coffee chain in the country. But as bakers, warehouse workers and baristas mobilize support for the union, the company has responded with open hostility, hiring the Labor Relations Institute (LRI)—a well-known union buster—during the campaign.

“There are paid staff meetings where they're asking us, individually, to vote no,” says Caroline Fortin, a shift lead at a location in Chicago. “So they’re very explicit.”

In These Times has also obtained copies of anti-union emails, “vote no” stickers and anti-union flyers drafted by Colectivo.

Management communications have invoked the anti-labor trope that unionization invites a harmful “third party” into the fold, and charge that the IBEW should not be representing the coffee workers. (In fact, most historic trade unions now represent a wide range of professions; many members of the United Auto Workers, for example, work in the nonprofit sector.)

One email from management goes so far as to highlight the high rate of attrition from the company for pro-union workers. “Of the 18 original organizing committee members, 10 remain employed today,” reads the email. The email goes on to list union organizers by job title and work location, with red slashes through those who no longer work at Colectivo.

Indeed, workers say that the anti-union campaign has gone beyond propaganda and disinformation.

When the union drive went public in August 2020, Zoe Muellner, a cafe worker, attached her signature to a letter notifying Colectivo of the plan to organize. She says that after the letter was released, upper management—with whom she interacted regularly as a barista trainer—stopped answering her emails and cut social ties.

A career barista, Muellner had worked in the coffee industry for six years—and Colectivo, for two—when the company cut her position as a trainer in October 2020.

“I asked if that meant I was done with the company in general, or if I could essentially take a demotion as a café coworker until they needed me back on in my position. And they said there were no positions available for me ... but go ahead and file for unemployment, kid.”

Muellner and the union say the layoff amounts to retaliation.

Also in October 2020, Robert Penner—a specialized machine operator in the Milwaukee warehouse—was abruptly let go. Penner had taken part in “union talk” since 2019, and like Muellner, had come out in public support of the campaign in early fall of 2020.

Penner says that the company requested that he come back on board following a voluntary pandemic-related furlough in the summer—but before his first shift back, he was told that Colectivo no longer needed him. Since his departure, the company has resorted to filling Penner’s position with baristas.

“They were pulling in cafe workers who weren’t trained to work in the warehouse,” says Kait Dessoffy, a shift lead at a Chicago cafe.

Archibald says that she had a similar experience after speaking up at an anti-union meeting held by an LRI representative.

“Me and another coworker specifically, we challenged everything he said,” Archibald says. “After that night, that guy knew we were for the union.”

In the weeks following the anti-union meeting, she noticed changes at work. Archibald was required to quickly train her coworkers in braiding Challah bread—a job that was formerly one of her specialties. At the time, Archibald thought it was “weird” that managers had requested to inspect her coworkers’ practice loaves. “Normally, when we did practice stuff, it was really just practice,” she says. In retrospect, she believes management was getting things in line for her departure.

About six weeks ago, Archibald was abruptly moved off of her usual duties and instead instructed to prepare English muffins, a job for which she says she was never properly trained. She adds that management rapidly increased the number of biscuits she was required to bake—400 one night, then 500, then 900.

“It felt like they were setting me up, you know, hoping I fail,” she explains.

Finally, on March 16, Archibald reports that she was fired for taking a smoke break. She left Colectivo just a week after her three-year anniversary with the company.

LRI, whose website brags that the firm “literally wrote the book in countering union organizing campaigns,” has been identified by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) as one of the largest union-busting firms in the United States. The company made a popular debut in the Oscar-winning 2019 documentary “American Factory,” which follows a union-busting campaign by a Fuyao Glass Company factory in Ohio.

According to company disclosures to the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), Colectivo pays LRI $375 an hour for services retained.

Even absent the involvement of a “labor consulting firm” like LRI, employer retaliation is endemic in union campaigns. In 41.5% of union elections in the United States, employers receive Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges— and surveys of labor organizations suggest that the number of instances of employer aggression during union campaigns is much higher.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), which was passed by the House of Representatives on March 9, attempts to curb this kind of union busting by banning “captive audience” meetings and instating stricter penalties for retaliatory firings.

In total, Colectivo has received six ULP allegations alleging retaliation and coercion during the ongoing union drive.

Still, union-busting tactics are not always straightforward, and can be difficult to prove. One Colectivo barista says that she has faced a subtler form of retaliation for her involvement with the campaign.

“I've always been, like, an over apologizer-type of person,” says Hillary Laskonis, a barista at Colectivo, explaining why her leadership in the campaign came as a surprise to some. “I think the owners take the whole thing personally.”

Laskonis says that managers have pulled her aside for multiple tense and vaguely disciplinary meetings. Recently, she says managers warned her that they had received multiple complaints about her attitude and performance. This took Laskonis, a Colectivo barista of three years, by surprise.

“[The meeting] was framed all around my mental health, and ‘what can we do to help you succeed, because you’re clearly struggling,’ and all this.” Coupled with the accusation that a coworker had been complaining about her, Laskonis says that the managers’ apparent concern for her mental wellbeing led her to question herself.

“It wasn't until I talked to the other [union] members on a group chat,” says Laskonis, “that I was able to realize that, like, I was so majorly gaslit at a corporate level.”

Colectivo management did not respond to multiple requests for comment about allegations of misconduct by workers, but instead said in a statement, “We and our and leadership team recognize the complexity of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and turned to professionals who specialize in the law to ensure the company and its co-workers are fully informed.”

Workers, meanwhile, say that solidarity among staff has remained strong during the campaign, allowing them to continue to organize despite the ongoing anti-union rhetoric and activity.

“I think perhaps what management doesn’t realize about these [anti-union] meetings, or maybe about their staff, is that we’re really smart—we’re together. We are more than capable of forming our own opinions about our working conditions,” says Dessoffy.

“We work in service,” they add, “We know when someone is gaslighting us.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed the number of Colectivo employees as 500, based on figures from October, 2020. That number has been updated to reflect the current workforce.

Alice Herman
Democrats Take the First Steps to Make Biden’s Infrastructure Bill a Climate Bill - The newly unveiled BUILD GREEN Infrastructure and Jobs Act would create good-paying union jobs while reducing carbon emissions and upgrading the country's crumbling infrastructure. Mon, 22 Mar 2021 13:15:00 -0500 Four congressional Democrats on Friday unveiled the BUILD GREEN Infrastructure and Jobs Act, a bill that would invest $500 billion over 10 years in state, local, and tribal projects to galvanize the transition to all electric public transportation—reducing climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions and health-threatening air pollution while expanding clean mass transit and creating up to one million new jobs.

Modeled after the Department of Transportation's BUILD grant program, the bill (pdf) to provide grant funding to green the nation's public transportation infrastructure while creating good-paying jobs in the process was introduced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) as well as Reps. Andrew Levin (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

"The climate crisis is an existential threat to our planet," Warren acknowledged in a press release, "but it's also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, create a million good new jobs, and unleash the best of American innovation."

The BUILD GREEN Act, she added, "will make the big federal investments necessary to transform our country's transportation system, confront the racial and economic inequality embedded in our fossil fuel economy, and achieve the ambitious targets for 100% clean energy in America."

That assessment was shared by Markey, who said that "we cannot build back better without building back greener." Markey called the bill "our opportunity to invest in a clean energy revolution across our country, transform our transportation sector to be climate-smart, and create millions of good-paying union jobs at the same time."

"We can work together," he added, "to leverage investment in climate action, reduce emissions, and support environmental justice communities through bold infrastructure projects, all while tackling our climate crisis."

Co-sponsors of the proposed legislation (pdf)—which is supported by almost three in five Americans, according to a new poll (pdf) conducted by Data for Progress—include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), among others.

Alluding to the recent crisis in Texas caused by the collision of a deregulated, fossil-fuel dependent energy system and a climate change-driven winter storm, Ocasio-Cortez said that "we must stop spending billions of taxpayer money on infrastructure systems only for them to fail at the most crucial moment."

"The BUILD GREEN Act," Ocasio-Cortez continued, "helps ensure that our federal dollars are being invested in infrastructure that can sustain the impact of climate change and better prepares our communities for extreme weather events."

"In most of the country," she added, "subways, buses, and other public transit are practically inaccessible or completely overburdened," meaning that "this bill would make a dramatic, material difference in the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people."

Calling the electrification of personal vehicles and mass transit a "central pillar" of the Green New Deal resolution introduced in 2019 by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey, Levin said that "the answer to both the climate crisis and the crisis of wealth inequality is to empower working people with the sustainable investments necessary to rebuild the communities devastated by decades of pollution and corporate trade policy."

He added that the bill "will deliver the transformational change demanded by the American people while ensuring that we build the green economy of the 21st century here at home with good-paying, union jobs."

The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development and Generating Renewable Energy to Electrify the Nation's (BUILD GREEN) Infrastructure and Jobs Act would:

  • jumpstart the transition to all electric public transportation, expand clean mass transit to underserved communities, and help modernize our crumbling infrastructure by covering up to 85% of costs for eligible state, local, and tribal projects, with an option for the Secretary of Transportation to cover 100% of costs;
  • reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 21.5 million metric tons of CO2 annually or the equivalent of taking 4.5 million combustion engine cars off the road;
  • prevent an estimated 4,200 deaths annually by reducing significant sources of local air pollution that cause adverse health effects like asthma, and avert $100 billion annually in healthcare costs;
  • start to correct decades of health disparities and environmental injustice by dedicating at least 40% of all funding to projects in frontline, vulnerable, and disadvantaged communities; and
  • create up to one million good new jobs with strong labor protections.

In its evaluation of the economic and environmental impacts of the bill, which it called "a vital component of tackling the climate crisis," Data for Progress estimated that electrifying the nation's public transportation systems, installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure nationwide, and expanding associated renewable energy generation capacity would save lives and money.

The proposed legislation is endorsed by a slew of progressive advocacy groups, including Data for Progress as well as Sunrise Movement, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club,, Greenpeace, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, Center for Progressive Reform, GreenLatinos, Rewiring America, New Consensus, Zero Hour, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

Given that "transportation represents about 29% of U.S. emissions," said Natalie Mebane, U.S. policy director at, "we can make huge progress in lowering our greenhouse gas emissions by electrifying the transportation sector and ensuring that it is powered by 100% clean energy."

A recent assessment of President Joe Biden's climate plans found his transportation policies to be inadequate if the U.S. is to reach his administration's goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Mebane added that "this bill will create close to one million jobs at a time when we need a just economic recovery immediately" in the wake of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic crisis.

Robert R.M. Verchick, president of the board of directors of the Center for Progressive Reform and professor of environmental law at Loyola University, New Orleans, said that "the transportation networks we build today shape the possibilities for tomorrow."

"If we want our children and grandchildren to thrive in their schools and in their jobs, they will need ways to get there," said Verchick. "If we want neighborhoods free of smog and industrial racket, we will need clean and efficient ways of moving around. Few investments we make today will have as profound an impact on the opportunities available to future generations as our infrastructure choices."

The BUILD GREEN Act was unveiled just two weeks after Sunrise Movement launched its "Good Jobs for All" campaign to put the country on a path toward a Green New Deal; that happened not long after Pressley introduced the Federal Job Guarantee Resolution, which seeks to make "meaningful, dignified work" at a livable wage an enforceable legal right.

Earlier this week, hundreds of local officials across the nation called on the Biden administration and Congress to deliver a bold infrastructure plan that improves the health of communities across the country.

Sanders, for his part, said Thursday that if Republicans try to obstruct progress on green jobs and infrastructure, Democrats "must use our majority to get it done."

This story was first published at Common Dreams.

Kenny Stancil
Working People Have an Ally at the Department of Labor in Julie Su - President Joe Biden got it right with Su, a principled and practical leader committed to poor working families. Fri, 19 Mar 2021 15:19:00 -0500 In 2011, I worked in the CLEAN Carwash campaign. I was assigned to work with then California Labor Commissioner Julie Su to train her entire field investigation team about the most pressing issues car wash workers were facing at that time. I was 23 years old, undocumented, and new to union organizing.

I was intimidated by Julie and her team. She had famously defended low-wage workers in the El Monte garment worker case of 1995, and I was overly self-conscious that I was not an attorney. “I am not a labor law expert, but we do have clear recommendations that come from the lived experiences of the carwash workers we work with,” I told them.

Julie calmly assured me that there was no one else in that room who knew better than I about the workers’ experience, and that was why she wanted the CLEAN Carwash Campaign to train her staff on the best practices they could deploy to conduct more effective investigations and enforce workplace protections for car wash workers across the state.

That was Julie Su—a principled and practical leader who you want in your corner in a time of need. President Joe Biden got it right when he appointed her deputy secretary of labor: She will be an exceptional leader and serve all working people at a time when the country is facing overwhelming economic and public health crises.

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated poor working families. While urging her colleagues to pass a renewal of unemployment benefits on the Senate floor earlier this month, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) noted that “there are three unemployed workers for every job opening right now. The numbers are stark, the reality heartbreaking."

We at Unemployed Workers United know this because we are living it. U.S. women lost 140,000 lost jobs in December alone. Meanwhile, The Century Foundation’s Unemployment Insurance database finds that 900,000 unemployed workers have exhausted their unemployment benefits since March 2020.

Numerous states across the country have faced a raft of challenges that include an outdated and underfunded unemployment insurance (UI) system, an unprecedented influx of claims, and low barriers to entry for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that allow sophisticated fraudsters to game the system. Amid these challenges, Su has shown strong, effective, and transparent leadership, steadfastly pursuing solutions that have enabled California to process 1 in 5 claims across the country and to pay over $100 billion in claims. Su has simultaneously advocated to modernize and improve the unemployment insurance system on both the federal and state levels.

This crisis has been compounded by mass evictions that have forced the unemployed and underemployed to risk Covid exposure to feed their families. Millions were already living paycheck to paycheck before Covid-19, but the pandemic has exposed and deepened the extreme wealth gap in our country. According to one estimate, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saw his net worth increase by $70 Billion in 2020.

As Secretary of Labor of California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, Julie spearheads an agency of more than 11,000 employees with a $26.4 billion budget, overseeing worker health and safety, labor law enforcement (including paid leave and hourly wages), workforce development, unemployment benefits, apprenticeships, and worker training. Among her many innovations, she has instituted on-the-job protections for workers affected by Covid-19 and launched a statewide initiative to educate high-risk industries about maintaining healthy and safe workplaces. Her comprehensive approach to workforce development has resulted in new programs preparing workers for good jobs, as well as systemic changes to the workforce system that prioritize those facing the greatest barriers to employment.

I cannot think of a better leader to get us back on track and operationalize the vision of “Build Back Better” than the woman behind a Future of Work Commission that: explored wage and poverty data in every county in the state of California (along with the damaging effects of high housing prices and declining trade union power); and provided a series of 10-year “moonshot” proposals to forge a more socially and economically equitable workplace.

Su has also co-chaired a Pay Equity Task Force that expanded innovative partnerships between labor unions and employers in targeted industries to create quality, high-end jobs while pioneering a community-based model of socially responsible small business development and investment in immigrant communities.

We need our U.S. Department of Labor to be led by individuals with long track records of defending those of who have borne the brunt of the last economic recession. We need leaders who will fight to improve working conditions for the most marginalized among us and are best qualified to lead our economy back from the brink through a smart, inclusive recovery. Anyone who has worked with her knows that Julie Su is that person.

During a recession, people of color and women in particular are almost always the first to lose their employment. Then when new jobs are created, they are among the last invited back into the workforce. Our communities contribute so much to this society, yet we often can’t make ends meet. Most of our families are stuck in a cycle that creates generational poverty.

With Su as our U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor, we will have a forward-thinking public official willing to fight for all of us. Her commitment to combat wage theft, create inclusive legislation to help all people of color, and prioritize jobs for minorities is the leadership we need to build a more egalitarian new normal. Su is the right woman for the job because she is already leading by example, and her confirmation would be a triumph for working people.

Neidi Dominguez
Confessions of a Child of the Bourgeoisie - Acclaimed author and In These Times Board President Rick Perlstein examines the influences that shaped his work and politics. Fri, 19 Mar 2021 14:37:00 -0500 In this special episode, we chat with In These Times Board President Rick Perlstein. Perlstein is a bestselling author and internationally acclaimed historian whose books offer a singular look at American politics and culture in the late twentieth century, as well as the rise of the modern conservative movement. In past interviews, Perlstein has discussed the influences that shaped his publishing career. Here, he retells that story in a way that people haven’t heard before—through the lens of class.

Maximillian Alvarez
Boycotting the Boycotters: In Oil-Friendly States, New Bills Aim to Block Divestment from Fossil Fuels - You may divest from fossil fuels — but you may not be able to do business with the state of Texas. Fri, 19 Mar 2021 12:00:00 -0500 Editor's Note: This story was originally published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Climate and shareholder activists are leading a growing movement for investors to put their money only in companies with sustainable business practices, a standard that considers how a company is run, the working conditions in its supply chain and its effect on climate change.

But lawmakers in some energy-producing states are not only pushing back—they’re proposing the exact opposite.

In Alaska, North Dakota, Texas and other energy-producing states where fossil fuel taxes support state budgets, some lawmakers are introducing legislation that would force states to stop investing in companies that use sustainable strategies to make financial decisions and to cut ties with asset managers, banks and insurers that are doing the same.

The mostly GOP lawmakers argue that investment decisions should be made solely based on the likely financial returns, not so-called ESG—the environmental, social and governance criteria that socially conscious investors use. Instead of embracing ESG, several states want to double down on investments in oil, gas and coal. Otherwise, they say, the very industries they depend on face collapse.

It's already difficult for fossil fuel projects to find insurance, financing and other backing if they don't meet some of the sustainability standards, said state Sen. Jessica Bell, a Republican in North Dakota who has sponsored one of the bills that would keep her state from making ESG-driven investments.

"They're denied access to capital. They are denied access to loans. They are refusing to do business with them. Our insurance rates have gone up," Bell said. "I mean, you name it, ESG has already negatively affected us.

But bills like the one in North Dakota defy global financial and political trends. Some of the world's biggest investors have embraced divestment from fossil fuels, and have pressed large companies to disclose their future risk exposure to the effects of climate change. As more state, local and national governments establish greenhouse gas emission targets, they are demanding corporations meet their new regulatory requirements.

To do so, many companies are committing to net-zero targets that seek to balance their greenhouse gas emissions with those taken out of the atmosphere.

For example, in his annual letter to CEOs in January, the CEO of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest asset managers and investors, asked companies to disclose plans for how their businesses will be compatible with a net-zero economy or risk being left behind.

The Hartford Financial Services Group won't insure or invest in fossil fuel companies making more than 25% of their revenue from coal mining, coal-fired power generation or the extraction of oil from tar sands.

In states dependent on fossil fuels, however, leaders fear the ESG movement threatens the existence of industries that provide jobs and tax revenue. In Alaska, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy supports legislation that would cut the state’s ties to banks that refuse to support oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Arctic. His move came after multiple lenders, including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, said they would no longer consider such investments.

"If a group of financial institutions want to make a political statement with their investment strategy, that is their prerogative," Dunleavy said in a statement announcing his plans. "But if Alaska does not have a robust oil and gas industry, our future is not bright."

North Dakota is at a similar crossroads: 53% of the state's tax revenue comes from taxes on oil production. Bell's legislation would keep the state investment board from putting money into ESG-driven funds—unless those investments have an equivalent or equal rate of return.

Her bill also would require the Department of Commerce to study how the state could completely divest from companies that boycott energy or commodity investments.

The legislation passed the state Senate and will next be voted on in the House. It has support from oil and coal trade groups in North Dakota, who said that the state's nearly $8 billion Legacy Fund—which is seeded with oil and gas production and extraction taxes—shouldn't be spent on investments that threaten the industry that created it.

"I think it helps us lead the way," said Bell, who works as an environmental manager at North American Coal Corporation, a mining company. "I am not going to apologize for that because of a political movement that has manifested itself in many ways, one of which being ESG.”

The proposed law in North Dakota is based on model legislation developed by Jason Isaac, a former Republican state representative in Texas who directs the Life:Powered program at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin.

Isaac said he got the idea for the model legislation from a 2017 bill that banned Texas from investing in funds that boycott, divest from or sanction Israel. Isaac thought such an approach would work for energy investments, too.

The foundation is pushing for similar legislation in Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and West Virginia. The bill in Texas goes even further than the North Dakota version. It would explicitly prohibit the state as well as local governments in Texas from doing business with any companies that divest from fossil fuels.

"These are just awful, awful policies, and we are pushing back," Isaac said. "And we're just saying, 'If you're going to have these policies, that's fine. You just can't do business with the state of Texas.'"

North Dakota state Sen. Merrill Piepkorn was one of only four lawmakers to vote against Bell's bill in the Senate. He is also the only Democrat on North Dakota's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"Why would I vote for it?" Piepkorn said. "My fear is that we are just digging our heels in the ground, content to live in the past, and the rest of the world is passing us by."

He said that energy companies "come in and pretty much get what they want" from the state legislature.

"If we spent the money that we're spending on entrenching ourselves into this old technology, this old fuel source, if we spent that on the future, just think of where we would be," Piepkorn said. "I just don't want to be stuck in the past in North Dakota. And all of a sudden, we're stuck with nothing because we refuse to look to the future."

James Leiman, the new commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said his department is neutral on the legislation. But he did tell North Dakota's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the ESG movement represents "the greatest challenge to the North Dakota economy since the Great Depression."

North Dakota's energy and agricultural sectors can't grow if they can't borrow money or access insurance because they don't meet ESG standards, Leiman said. Coal plants in North Dakota are closing because of market shifts as well as regulatory changes driven by other states that have established goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. North Dakota also faces a new federal regulatory environment, as the Biden administration is much less friendly to the fossil fuel industry than the Trump administration was.

But North Dakota also can learn to use the fervor for sustainable investment to its advantage, Lieman said. The state Department of Commerce plans to spend $250,000 to study how it can help existing businesses within the state manage ESG compliance, the commissioner said.

North Dakota will also continue investments in carbon capture and storage projects. That includes plans for a $1 billion facility known as Project Tundra that, if the technology proves successful, could capture the greenhouse gas emissions from any coal-fired power plants remaining in operation.

"State government is 100% behind industry in terms of creating that next-generation economy," Leiman said. "We're preparing for the eventuality of what the markets are telling us, as well as how to continue to grow our economy."

Many other states have already embraced investment that takes into consideration environmental, social and governance concerns, California among them. Its $444 billion public retirement system has long been considered a leader in sustainable investment.

In September, the Oregon Investment Council approved a policy formalizing the importance of ESG factors in investment decisions. State Treasurer Tobias Read said that considering sustainability in Oregon's $107 billion investment portfolio is not just a priority "but consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities."

"Institutional investors like Oregon benefit from paying attention to everything that can affect the health and long-term sustainability of our investments," Read said in an email. "That means looking at climate risks, the diversity of a company's leadership, or how companies treat their employees."

New York state's $226 billion retirement fund in 2020 adopted the goal to transition its portfolio to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. To do so, the state will review its investments in energy sector companies, and where it's consistent with its fiduciary duty, will divest from companies failing to meet minimum standards.

Nationally, the Biden administration said it wouldn't enforce and is likely to rescind a Trump-era rule that made it more challenging for employers to offer ESG-related funds in retirement plans.

Consumers also crave sustainable investments, said Andrew Behar, the CEO of As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group that pushes for environmental and social corporate responsibility. A report this year by the sustainable investment division of Morgan Stanley bank found that in 2020, funds that focused on environmental, social and governance factors weathered the year better than the portfolios that did not.

"It makes sense, because why would you want to be invested in your own destruction?" Behar said. "They don't want to be invested in climate destruction."

Erika Bolstad
Dianne Morales Is the Radical Choice for New York City Mayor - The political newcomer wants the city to stop "feeding the beast" of inequality. Thu, 18 Mar 2021 10:15:00 -0500 Of all of the candidates currently running for mayor of New York City, Dianne Morales is the most explicitly leftist. A Brooklyn native, single mother, and former public school teacher who ran multiple social service nonprofits in the city, Morales is running on a platform of housing for all, defunding the police, taxing the rich, and investing in public infrastructure. Last week, her campaign qualified for matching funds, which should propel her through the Democratic primary on June 22.

Morales spoke with In These Times about her candidacy, her opponents, and her disgust with the “smoke and mirrors” of the De Blasio administration. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Hamilton Nolan: You have a prestigious resume, but not an electoral politics resume. Why did you decide to run for mayor?

Dianne Morales: I just got tired of focusing on the symptoms, and the leaky bucket that it feels like exists when you’re trying to help people overcome obstacles and barriers to opportunity, but the opportunities and barriers are systemic and structural. I started to feel like it didn’t matter how successful I was on the back end--we really need to be courageous and committed to taking on the things that result in poverty, that disproportionately impacts some over others.

HN: Your platform calls for “Guaranteed Housing For All.” Take me through your pathway to affordable housing in NYC.

DM: The most important thing to recognize in having this conversation about housing is that the way housing happens or exists right now is something that was created. It’s not something that is a natural way of existing. And it was created in such a way that really centers and prioritizes developers and profits, and then, way at the bottom, people. So my basic housing platform is that we have created this and we can change this...if we start with the premise that housing is a human right, and we prioritize investing in making that possible. We must center people first, move away from this model of providing housing that gives tax subsidies and tax incentives to housing developers, and direct those dollars into the community to increase the availability of things like social housing and cooperative housing and supportive housing and community land trusts.

HN: Are those kinds of solutions adequate to provide the amount of new housing that experts say New York City needs to bring us into the realm of widespread affordable housing?

DM: Yes, because what this kind of solution does is to get to the structural problems of inequity in housing and access to housing. We’re at the point in time where we need to actually dismantle some of these structures that have perpetuated these inequities. So the idea that we have to continue feeding the beast in order to address the problem that the beast has in fact created, to me, is counterintuitive.

What do we do with existing vacant property and space, both in terms of repurposing those things, and of claiming them? What do we do in terms of exercising eminent domain over empty office buildings? Just really moving towards eliminating the speculative practices that exist in the city right now, that enable landlords to hold onto vacant space because they’re getting a tax write-off. Or people from other places, who are sitting on their pied-à-terre… These are moves that require us being willing to confront that power.

HN: Have you gotten a sense as a candidate of how powerful the real estate industry is in New York politics? How would you characterize that?

DM: It is not a small thing. Very early on in my candidacy I was approached by someone in the real estate field who basically suggested that they could make it rain for me, and make it possible for me to slide into home base in this race. I just needed to be open to their ideas. Needless to say, that conversation didn’t go much farther.

HN: Take me through your plan to defund the police--you talk about reallocating $3 billion from the NYPD budget. Where would that money go?

DM: The bulk of that $3 billion would go into the creation of a community first responders department. First of all, we need to stop criminalizing poverty, stop criminalizing being black or brown, stop divesting from the critical services that actually contribute to public safety, and recognize that communities that are safe are communities that have lots of resources and options and opportunities.

A community first responders department would be the first ones to show up on the scene. We know that the bulk of calls that the NYPD responds to are not, in fact, crimes in progress. They’re social issues—housing, mental health, substance abuse. So the community first responders department would be staffed with people who are trained and skilled in intervention and de-escalation in these situations, and who also serve as part of a larger ecosystem that is connected to human service providers, mental health providers, clinics, and all types of services. The person who’s in need in that moment is actually connected to the support they need to move forward, and potentially out of that situation.

HN: You advocate decriminalizing both sex work and drugs, things that people on the left have talked about for a long time. How close do you think we are to that becoming a real political possibility?

DM: To me, this is a critical part of getting to the root of things, and the structures of things. We’re talking about restoring justice for the harm that was done as a result of the war on drugs in our communities, where black and brown folks were criminalized for drug use. You see that when you talk about the comparisons of the crack epidemic with the opioid epidemic. When it was primarily black and brown people, it was a crime. When it’s suddenly impacting white people, it’s a national health crisis. And that approach is the right approach, it just needs to be applied equitably.

HN: When you think about the huge Black Lives Matter protests in NYC last year, and the calls for defunding the police, how much do you think City Hall took that to heart? What grade would you give City Hall on their response?

DM: A “D,” at best. It felt really performative—the whole back and forth about the police budget that ended up not being a reduction in budget at all. We see they’ve already exceeded the overtime line for this fiscal year. It was, I would say, a pretty ineffective attempt at smoke and mirrors that didn’t really fool anyone.

HN: Last week, two of NYC’s biggest unions, DC37 and SEIU 32BJ, both endorsed one of your opponents, the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Were you disappointed by that?

DM: My dad was a 32BJ worker, and I worked at DC37. So was I disappointed? Yeah, I was disappointed. Those people are like home and family to me in many ways. But I also understand that there’s a calculus that happens, and that I am an unknown quantity, and that as much as people want to go with their values, the whole viability thing is so deeply ingrained in anyone that operates in this space that it’s really hard to suspend disbelief vote your values alone.

HN: You were earlier than many people in calling for the impeachment of Andrew Cuomo. What do you think is going to happen with him?

DM: He ain’t gonna resign, that’s for sure. The idea that we would expect him to do the right thing after so many years of not doing the right thing is like the definition of insanity. But I am hoping that our state leaders will pursue an impeachment process and an investigation. We have to pull out the full arsenal to stop him from continuing to cause harm to people. I think New Yorkers deserve better. The curtain has been pulled back.

HN: Andrew Yang is leading the NYC mayoral polls at the moment. Why do you think he’s in the lead?

DM: Not really sure. I think the name recognition is definitely a factor. He’s got some really fervid supporters, and there’s an interesting tone and culture there. I also feel like it’s still really early. Most New Yorkers are only just beginning to pay attention, and it’s anyone’s race. People have continued to discount us and dismiss us, and part of me is like: You keep doing that.

HN: Do you consider yourself the most progressive candidate in the race?

DM: I consider myself the most people-oriented candidate in this race, by far. The one that’s willing to take the most risks in support of the best interests of the largest community of New Yorkers. If that makes me the progressive, then yes.

HN: What is the best New York sports team?

DM: Oh my god. I gotta say, I still enjoy watching the Knicks. But my dad’s gonna kill me, cause he’s a big Mets fan. I’ll leave it at that.

[Author's Note: The correct answer is the Brooklyn Nets.]

The views expressed in this piece are the author's own. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, In These Times does not oppose or endorse candidates for political office.

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That may sound bleak, but the truth is we are as optimistic as we've ever been. Because every day, readers like you are stepping up and showing that quality journalism matters to them—and they're willing to pay to support it.

We've set a goal to bring in 200 new Sustainers with our Spring Sustainer Drive, and we're offering some great rewards. If you want to be part of a new and better media landscape, sign up to become a Sustainer today.

Hamilton Nolan
Left Out: Struggling Dairy Farmers Ineligible for Second Round of PPP - A criteria change for second draw loans has disqualified most dairy producers from receiving relief. Wed, 17 Mar 2021 12:00:00 -0500 Last spring, as Covid-19 cases began to climb in the United States, Randy Roecker worried about the future of his farm. Roecker, like thousands of other dairy farmers in Wisconsin, is no stranger to uncertainty.

The 56-year-old owns a 300-cow dairy farm and has often wondered over the past six years if his operation would be able to survive low milk prices and rising operating costs. The pandemic seemed likely to deliver a death blow to his farm, as schools and restaurants — major purchasers of dairy products — were forced to shutter in an attempt to contain the virus.

“Without the sale of milk, we can’t make it,” Roecker explained.

Federal aid approved by Congress at the start of the Covid-19 crisis was critical for saving farms throughout Wisconsin. Now a year into the pandemic, many farmers have been unable to receive additional, needed assistance because of strict qualifiers created by lawmakers.

For Roecker and other small farmers, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)—established by the CARES Act, to provide forgivable loans to qualifying small businesses—came as a relief. Roecker received a loan of roughly $40,000 through the program — enough to pay bills and, as he says, literally keep the lights on.

“We were very, very thankful” for the PPP loan, Roecker said.

In total, at least 2,429 dairy farms in Wisconsin received a forgivable PPP loan. PPP has become a household acronym in the United States. It’s been a cornerstone of relief negotiations in Washington and funding for the program has been re-upped twice — most recently in December, when lawmakers earmarked another $284 billion for the program, which is overseen by the Small Business Administration. And when legislators once again refilled the fund, they included provisions in the bill to make businesses who had already received a forgivable PPP loan eligible for a second round of assistance through the program.

Only this time, Congress attached more stringent qualifiers to the loans. Businesses seeking a second forgivable loan must have used their first loan for only authorized uses, have 300 or fewer employees and “can demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts between comparable quarters in 2019 and 2020,” according to SBA.

The final criterion is debilitating for Roecker and hundreds — potentially thousands — of other dairy farmers in the state who previously received PPP funds.

Conversations with multiple dairy farmers and a state Department of Agriculture employee tasked with helping farmers navigate federal relief programs revealed that few, if any, dairy farmers in the state have qualified for a second payment through the program. Because financial devastation over the last half-decade left pre-pandemic revenues for farmers at historic lows, showing a 25% loss between 2019 and 2020 is nearly impossible, the farmers said.

Tracy Brandel, a senior agricultural program specialist at the Wisconsin Farm Center, told In These Times in a phone interview that she has received daily calls since late December from dairy farmers asking questions about how to qualify for the second round of payments. To date, Brandel said she has not spoken to a single dairy farmer that has been eligible for a second payment.

Among those ineligible for a second loan are both Roecker and Patrick Schroeder, a farmer who milks roughly 400 cows in Lancaster, Wisconsin and received roughly $46,000 through the PPP last April to help keep seven people employed and cover other expenses. Like Roecker, Schroeder said the PPP money and other federal assistance helped keep his business going.

“If I would have not gotten the money from the government last year … I would file bankruptcy and I would be out of business,” Schroeder told In These Times. “[The assistance] was that critical for us to survive.”

He added that among everyone he spoke to in agriculture that received the PPP loans before, none qualified for the second payment.

Roecker is in a similar position: Ineligible for another PPP loan but in desperate need of assistance, the Loganville farmer said that if it weren’t for a separate Economic Injury Disaster Loan he received from the SBA, “there would have been a very, very good chance we would have just walked away.”

And besides the extremely cumbersome process to get his latest loan — several phone calls and emails and conversations with seven different SBA staffers — Roecker faces an interest rate of 3.75%—a far cry from the forgivable loan he could have received if he could have shown a 25% decrease in gross receipts.

Roecker also did not know of any farmers eligible for the second loan.

The decision by lawmakers to establish stricter criteria on the loans has left both Schroeder and Roecker feeling overlooked and left behind. “I honestly thought that when people were hungry, and they were worried about getting their food, that farmers would be considered one of the most important people in the world and we would really, really truly be important,” Schroeder said.

“We got no more respect today. Look at these PPP loans. We don’t mean nothing.”

Time is running out for lawmakers in Washington to make needed changes to the program to provide additional loans to farmers. The bill passed late last year dictates that the application period for PPP loans under the current round of funding close on March 31. With action in Washington being dominated by Covid-19 and hearings for President Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees, Wisconsin dairy farmers in urgent need of financial assistance could be left out in the cold.

“Nobody knows the pressure we are under,” Roecker said. “The milk checks are so bad and our costs are so high, there is nothing left to pay the bills.”

Jack Kelly
The Teamsters Hint at a Combative National Project to Organize Amazon - Fearing a threat to more than 100 years of worker gains, "This entire union is focused on dealing with Amazon." Wed, 17 Mar 2021 09:06:00 -0500 As the drive to unionize Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama draws international attention to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) that is leading the effort, other unions are planning their own strategies to organize parts of Amazon’s sprawling operations as well. The Teamsters, who see Amazon as a direct threat to their historic work organizing the trucking industry, are engaged in a concerted project targeting Amazon—and though they're tight-lipped about the details, they appear committed to a long-term, nationwide effort that could make them one of the company’s most formidable union foes.

The 1.4 million-member Teamsters are more than ten times bigger than the RWDSU. They see Amazon’s vast pool of non-union delivery employees as an existential threat to not only their own members, but to the ability of the trucking industry to provide living wage jobs. Randy Korgan, a goateed organizing veteran whose current title is Teamsters National Director for Amazon, frames the standoff with Jeff Bezos’ company as just the latest incarnation of a struggle that the union has been waging for more than a century.

“We fought to regulate the industry because of the working conditions that were happening in the [19]20s, 30s, and 40s. We obviously find some similarities today,” Korgan says. Despite the popular view of the “roaring 20s” as a grand era, “history clearly shows that working people suffered greatly. And here we come back into the roaring 20s again. Is this a repeat of history? We’ve got to ask ourselves that.”

Korgan is particularly angered by Amazon’s ongoing effort to portray itself as a good corporate citizen because it pays a $15 per hour minimum wage to its employees—a wage lower than what Korgan himself made as a union warehouse worker more than 30 years ago. Amazon itself is the primary driver of a process that is changing warehouse jobs that once paid a living wage into low-income, tenuous, temporary work.

“At every level of the organization you see this high turnover rate, and then you see them introducing this rate of $15, $16 an hour and trying to claim that they need to be patted on the back,” says Korgan. “Aren't they talking out of both sides of their mouth? Because what is the average wage of someone that works in a warehouse in this country, and is Amazon exploiting and capitalizing on that wage being reduced?"

Currently, the only Teamsters members with a direct connection to the company are workers at Atlas and ABX Air, two firms that do business with Amazon. But the union is eyeing a much larger pool of Amazon employees, particularly delivery drivers, many of whom work for subcontractors rather than for Amazon itself. Though this process serves to insulate Amazon, the Teamsters have in the past organized tens of thousands of workers at subcontractors throughout the trucking industry. Warehouses are also in the Teamsters traditional wheelhouse, and it was reported last month that the union has spent several months organizing hundreds of Amazon warehouse workers in Iowa, though the outcome of that campaign remains uncertain.

The Teamsters have been chewing over the threat posed by Amazon for years. Various Teamster websites are rife with posts like “TEAMSTERS MUST TAKE NOTE OF THE DANGER ON THE HORIZON” and “TAKING ON AMAZON,” all of which note the direct threat the company poses to the stability of the entire transportation industry. But as the Alabama warehouse union campaign has drawn a tidal wave of press, the Teamsters are now loath to divulge too much of their strategy. Korgan is leading the union’s “Amazon Project,” and says he is engaged with workers across the country, and is “absolutely” working with other unions, as well. But he declines to discuss the project’s funding, timeline, or specific targets. He does, however, hint that the Teamsters may pursue a more radical and confrontational strategy when it comes time to seek union recognition from the famously intransigent company.

The classic pathway of seeking an NLRB election to certify a union—the process that is currently underway for the Amazon workers in Alabama—has the benefits of being clearly defined by law, but it also enables companies to spend months bombarding workers with anti-union propaganda, and to throw money at legal challenges. Korgan implies that the Teamsters may seek other pathways to try to force voluntary recognition of unions. (In fact, a Teamsters organizer in Iowa said that the union would prefer to use strikes to pressure the company to recognize its union.)

“There are many platforms to seek recognition, there are many platforms for workers to do concerted activities,” Korgan says. “Truth be told, that [NLRB] process is where corporate America wants organizing to be, and that's how they want it to be defined. Because they clearly have more of an advantage there than they do in other spaces."

The recognition that Amazon has become so powerful that allowing it to remain non-union is not a viable option seems to have finally become conventional wisdom within organized labor. It is safe to assume that the Teamsters are only one of several major unions planning ways to organize their own slice of the company. The union campaign in Alabama, where the votes will be counted at the end of this month, will likely be only the first step down a long and contentious road that will last for years.

“No matter what happens in Bessemer,” Korgan says, “it doesn’t change the trajectory of anything that’s going on.”

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That may sound bleak, but the truth is we are as optimistic as we've ever been. Because every day, readers like you are stepping up and showing that quality journalism matters to them—and they're willing to pay to support it.

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Hamilton Nolan
The Movement for Black Lives Has Been Waiting for This Moment - Racial justice organizers are preparing to take to the streets and the halls of power to push President Biden to meet their demands. Tue, 16 Mar 2021 09:19:00 -0500 When the indictments for former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and a group of his officials and advisers were announced in January over their roles in overseeing the deadly Flint water crisis, Nayyirah Shariff, the Director of Flint Rising, a progressive coalition that grew in size and influence alongside the Black Lives Matter movement, didn’t celebrate.

Snyder, after all, was only charged with two misdemeanors. And that came after making decisions that led directly to a city being poisoned, lives being irreversibly damaged and at least 12 deaths. As Shariff says, “it’s abysmal.”

But Shariff also stresses that these small steps toward holding Flint’s tormentors accountable are “most definitely” thanks to “feverish organizing” by the city’s people.

Shariff is not alone. As it continues to fight local battles, the racial justice movement is also using the power it has built to demand change on a national scale. Movement organizers say they plan to intensify their advocacy—through street protests and other forms of direct pressure on lawmakers—to make sure their demands for transformative change are met under the Biden administration.

Nikita Mitchell, National Coordinator of The Rising Majority—an organization that works with a coalition of progressive groups to build “a powerful, anti-racist Left for radical democracy”—points to “mobilizing in the streets,” “doing electoral work,” and “running campaigns on the state and local level” as strategies for making change in the Biden era.

It’s precisely because the political terrain in 2021 is slightly more favorable for progressives, after years of tireless organizing, that organizers are positioned to mount a fierce offense on issues such as climate, criminal justice, healthcare and immigration. Phillip Agnew, organizer and co-founder of Black Men Build, an organization dedicated to advancing Black freedom, tells In These Times that, “In the last few years, we've seen greater coming together of social movements.”

But racial justice organizers don’t simply hope to return to some semblance of pre-Trump “normalcy.” Conditions were “already horrible for Black people, for Latino people, for immigrants, for women in this country before Donald Trump took office,” says Agnew, as he looks toward the new administration’s agenda.

Climate progress

To start with the good, Agnew gives credit where it’s due. He calls Biden’s stronger than anticipated climate plan, for example, “a cause for optimism that, at a very low bar, the United States at least wants to slow down the end of the world.” As environmentalist and co-founder of Bill McKibben writes at the New Yorker, Biden’s ambitious goals, including eliminating all CO2 from the U.S. economy by 2050, “may well mark the official beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel era.”

Ultimately, though, Biden has to go even further to make the world inhospitable to fossil fuel and natural gas companies that are seeking to extract every drop and every penny. The fight to tackle climate change is also a fight against racism. Big polluters locate wherever they can operate most cheaply and without scrutiny. And because the United States is still deeply segregated along racial lines, private industry knows that if you want to release toxic pollutants into the air with impunity, there’s no better place than in communities of color. According to the Clean Air Task Force, Black Americans are exposed to air that is 38 percent more polluted than white Americans, and “are 75 percent more likely to live” near toxic facilities. And as Black Lives Matter organizers Patrisse Cullors and Nyeusi Nguvu explain, “those most affected—and killed—by climate change are Black and poor people.”

There's little evidence that Biden’s embrace of bolder climate action would have occurred without significant pressure from progressive groups and organizers. Under the Obama-Biden administration, as former President Obama bragged in 2018, the United States became “the biggest oil producer” in the world. “That was me people,” he told an audience at a gala for Rice University’s Baker Institute.

Thankfully for the rest of us, climate activism has exploded in recent years. And Biden “is movement folks,” Agnew says, including members of the Sunrise Movement and the multiracial organizers behind the THRIVE Agenda—a plan for economic and racial justice—who have called for aggressive steps to address the devastating toll climate change takes on communities of color.

Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, is one of the authors of the Gulf South for a Green New Deal, a platform backed by dozens of organizations that advocates for such issues as farmworker rights and sustainable fisheries. She says that her coalition’s priority is to make sure that Biden and Congress are “including the voices and the unique reality of the South.”

While acknowledging the verging success of pressure from climate groups, Agnew is skeptical that Biden will willingly take the lead on policies that popular movements are advocating. “We opened the doors and created” the conditions so that Biden can be a consequential president “if he chooses to be,” Agnew says. “I don't think he's gonna choose to be...We're gonna have to continue to apply pressure.”

Challenges remain

Flint Rising’s demands, for instance, look the same as they did in the most uncertain days of the water crisis: passing Medicare for All, tightening up the EPA’s loose application of health-based standards, and making “sure that water is affordable for all and regulated like the utilities,” Shariff says. The group also highlights the importance of implementing a Green New Deal with a just transition for workers that rejects market-based solutions to planetary catastrophe. Shariff adds that this plan also needs to be “just and equitable,” unlike the “old New Deal where Black people were shut out” because its passage depended on the support of racist senators who went on to administer the programs in predictably racist ways.

While Biden has put forward some ambitious climate policies, details and questions around equity remain up in the air. And despite an ongoing pandemic and healthcare crisis that is disproportionately destroying Black and Brown lives, Biden has repeatedly voiced opposition to Medicare for all, even saying he would veto the bill if it came to his desk.

Then there’s the issue of criminal justice reform. Designed by the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Project, the BREATHE Act calls for sweeping changes, from abolishing mandatory minimums, ending life sentences and repealing the 1994 crime bill to “decriminalizing and retroactively expunging drug offenses,” and rerouting large chunks of the country’s massive criminal justice and defense budgets towards addressing the preventable misery that drives so many to desperate acts in the first place. While the bill was introduced last year by Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Biden’s team has so far declined to say whether the administration backs such dramatic reforms.

“He has already started to show us that it is going to take immense amounts of pressure to advance the things that we want to advance,” Karissa Lewis, National Field Director with the Movement for Black Lives, tells In These Times.

Biden became one of the lead architects of mass incarceration when he helped write the 1994 crime bill (which he now calls a “mistake”). In his first days as president, Biden ordered the Justice Department to end contracts with private prisons, returning to an Obama-era policy advocated by racial justice organizers. But this change, Agnew says, only came after “the largest social movement in the history of the United States” spent months protesting both police violence and a thousand other forms of petty harassment that characterize the profession. And even on the issue of banning private prisons, Biden made an exception for the private immigration detention centers, which hold the large majority of migrant detainees.

Mitchell says that Biden remains dedicated to the “myth of good policing,” which will hamper his attempts to tackle “systemic racism,” which the president has identified as a priority. As writer Alex S. Vitale explains in his book The End of Policing, in the United States, police fail abysmally at answering the problems we’re told they exist to solve. But fundamentally, an institution that developed through slave patrols and violently crushing working-class uprisings against miserable conditions will take more aggressive action to rein in.

As policy solutions, Mitchell cites the Working Families Party’s People's Charter, which demands that governments—both national and local—“shift resources away from policing” and “into schools, housing, healthcare and jobs.” She also points to the Movement for Black Lives’ BREATHE Act, which calls for policies that encourage local jurisdictions to “decarcerate their jails and/or defund their police forces,” along with reparations for those targeted by “the War on Drugs, the criminalization of prostitution and police violence.”

Biden’s plans are far more modest. The president campaigned on taking steps to expand “funding for mental health and substance use disorder services,” invest in public defenders’ offices, and eliminate mandatory minimums and the death penalty. Some of these reforms will depend on Senate Democrats abolishing the filibuster, an anti-democratic tool Republicans would use to block such legislation. But for other changes, like eliminating mandatory minimums and the death penalty in federal cases, Biden can simply use his executive authority.

On March 3, the U.S. House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which, according to the AP, would “ban chokeholds and ‘qualified immunity’ for law enforcement and create national standards for policing in a bid to bolster accountability.” Biden has voiced support for the bill, but has also called for “reinvigorating community-oriented policing” by investing $300 million in the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office to help departments get resources. As Vitale explains, such an approach allows officers to define who counts as the “community,” by “systematically excluding voices critical of law enforcement.”

Mitchell says that only “a strong social movement for the masses” can bring about bolder changes like the People’s Charter or the BREATHE Act to become priorities for the new president.

On the issue of immigration, Lewis points out that, despite Biden’s 100-day moratorium on deportations, the administration has let ICE toss Haitian migrants out of the country on public health grounds. Meanwhile, Biden’s Justice Department is sticking its neck out to defend Trump orders that helped cause family separations. “The proof is in the policy,” Lewis adds, “and the Movement for Black Lives has clear demands.” Section 1 of the BREATHE Act, for instance, calls for “a time-bound plan to close all federal prisons and immigration detention centers” and an end to state and local police cooperation with ICE. What’s been called “the boldest immigration agenda any administration has put forward in generations” by Muzaffar Chishti, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, doesn’t include such measures, which means, according to Lewis, that organizers are “gonna have to continue to put pressure on him.”

The fight ahead

“Grassroots social movements have created the conditions” for Biden to “be a president of note, if he chooses to be,” says Agnew.

It’s important to be “clear about what [our people] deserve and what this administration will and will not be giving them,” Mitchell says. “And how building people power is the only way to get what we deserve long term.”

That requires stepping outside of the highly constrained limits of mainstream debate, and illustrating a clear and compelling vision of a better world—something racial justice organizers have been plotting in the early days of the Biden administration.

The real question, Mitchell says, is “how do we transform and get closer to a democratic society” where everyone can genuinely participate in the decisions that shape their lives?

The Movement for Black Lives has a number of tactics planned, Lewis says, included engaging in “electoral justice, [grassroots] organizing and policy work” at all levels.

Lewis shares her excitement for the upcoming launch of the “Red, Black and Green New Deal, which is a response to climate from a Black perspective.” She also points to the ambitious Black Power Rising project, a five-year vision with five interlocking pillars: building mass political engagement among 10% of the country’s Black population, establishing “self-determined Black communities” in 5-10 localities, building a long-term multiracial strategy for transformative change, supporting leadership development throughout its local partners, and winning “clear electoral victories with an eye toward preventing the rise of white-nationalist and authoritarian rule.” Lewis highlights the sustained organizing that led Illinois to pass the Pretrial Fairness Act earlier this year, which eliminates cash bail and provides a blueprint for how local organizers can chip away at mass incarceration at the state level.

Ultimately, Agnew says, building a vibrant democracy that people can actually participate in will require “ending capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and the destruction of this empire, honestly.” These are long term goals, however, which places popular movements in a familiar position: winning whatever progress is graspable now while insisting that justice requires more fundamental change. Black Men Build, Agnew says, is laying the basis for “an organization that people see as theirs” and “not something that came from somewhere else and crash landed there.” Still in its infancy, the organization plans to establish a presence in nine cities by the end of 2021. The larger challenge, according to Agnew, is to win over the vast numbers of Black men “who are not engaged with the movement” and who “have not experienced a mass left organization that is of importance and relevance to their life.”

These are formidable odds. But “this is still a very exciting time,” Lewis says. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused “folks to question systems, and not just the role of players in the system.” And after a summer of record-breaking protest, instead of standalone demands to “hold this police officer accountable,” massive amounts of people began “really questioning the role of policing in our communities,” according to Lewis. Organizers hope to seize this opening to enact more meaningful policy solutions under a new Democratic president and Congress.

Still, Agnew says, “all of my excitement comes from what we're doing in the streets, none of it comes from D.C.”

As a nonprofit publication, we've always relied on support from readers, not advertisers, to continue publishing—and it's becoming increasingly clear that's the only way hard-hitting, well-researched and truthful journalism has any chance of surviving.

That may sound bleak, but the truth is we are as optimistic as we've ever been. Because every day, readers like you are stepping up and showing that quality journalism matters to them—and they're willing to pay to support it.

We've set a goal to bring in 200 new Sustainers with our Spring Sustainer Drive, and we're offering some great rewards. If you want to be part of a new and better media landscape, sign up to become a Sustainer today.

Eli Day