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Laura Flanders | The Nation

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Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

How Ivy League Universities Are Failing Us on Climate Change

Tufts divestment campaign (Courtesy of James Ennis)

The planet is getting hotter, and sooner or later world governments are going to be forced to take action. Regulation may not be happening fast enough to stop the irreversible damage predicted from a two-degree (Celsius) rise in global temperature, but action will happen eventually and some investors are beginning to show concern. Just last week, Bloomberg LP released a “Carbon Risk Valuation Tool “intended to help its high-end portfolio managers assess the risk ofso called ‘stranded assets’ . The tool estimates that BP stands to lose 43 percent of its stock value if governments ever get serious about regulating emissions. To understand “stranding” better, I talked earlier this month with John Fullerton, a former oil and gas investor for JP Morgan:

“The reality is that climate change and finance are still viewed as separate worlds…. Mainstream investors still dismiss it as “not our issue,”” said Fullerton, President and Founder of The Capital Institute.

Continued investment in fossil fuels is creating what is called a “carbon bubble,” he explained. A bigger, more malignant financial dilemma than its predecessor, the housing bubble; in order for the world to reduce emissions, climate scientists estimate that two-thirds of today’s fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground. The UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres told energy executives as much, when she addressed a coal industry conference last month. “It’s time to honestly assess the financial risks of business as usual,” said Figueres.

But “stranding” enough fossil fuel to head off climate catastrophe will be costly for the countries with publicly held reserves, for the energy companies and the people whose pension funds are currently invested in them. Energy companies, Fullerton estimates, would need to take a $20 trillion write-off, way more than the estimated $2 trillion lost in the subprime mortgage meltdown.

How likely are companies to take action themselves? “Not likely” says Fullerton. A better bet is that investors, out of self-interest, will wise up. If not self-interest, then public pressure. A campaigns has been growing across college campuses demanding that universities divest from fossil fuels, as they once campaigned for divestment from apartheid South Africa.

So far the results have not been encouraging. Says Fullerton of Brown and Harvard’s decision not to divest:

“The president of [Brown] issued a long and thoughtful statement on their decision on why they should not divest, and to be honest, I fully sympathize with all of the economic arguments…but I do think if we look back at that letter, maybe even only five years from now, and substitute the word fossil fuel perhaps with the word slavery we will be aghast at how we thought about this issue. Our leading public institutions are letting us down”

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The pressure on college boards is rising—in the US and abroad thanks to campaigns like 350.0rg’s “Fossil Free.” For more on this, check out my interview with Fullerton in full, or this commentary, Climate Catastrophe or Crash?

Lee Fang reports on the fracking industry’s response to environmentalist Josh Fox’s ‘Gasland’ films.

On #GivingTuesday, Giving’s Never Been Easier or Cheaper for Global Corporations

A gift

Courtesy of asenat29/Flickr

It’s “Giving Tuesday” on December 3. Following Black Friday, on Giving Tuesday, people all across the United States will be kicking off the holiday season not with shopping, they say, but with giving.

In just its second year, Giving Tuesday is attracting thousands of participants large and small. Whenever haves help have-nots that’s worthy of praise. Still, when massive global corporations want praise too, I get a little queasy.

Don’t get me wrong, GRITtv is viewer-supported. We’re all for charitable giving, and every day, we’re reminded of just how much generosity is out there. This year, an anonymous donor enabled us to hire a third team member and start a podcast. We thank that donor daily.

But the massive corporations taking part in Giving Tuesday aren’t anonymous. They want positive PR, and for that they deserve serious scrutiny.

Take Verizon. For Giving Tuesday, the Verizon Foundation says it will contribute to three large nonprofits as directed by the votes of Verizon workers. The company calls it giving back and “giving voice” to employees.

Call me cynical, but I bet most Verizon workers would have preferred more voice and fewer givebacks in their contracts. Over the last decade Verizon’s forced concessions on everything from wages to pensions to job security and the right to organize. Giving Tuesday’s nice, but Verizon workers give back every day.

It’s the same with Google. Google’s co-hosting a Giving Tuesday “Hangout-a-thon” for charities and socially conscious businesses. Lovely, but if it had a real social conscience, Google would let less of its wealth hang out in tax shelters. Last year, Google dodged about $2 billion in income taxes by funneling revenues into a Bermuda shell company. What it gives on Tuesday will be pennies on what it’d owe if it were to pay its fair share on tax day. And poor taxpayers might need less charity.

At Microsoft, well, at Microsoft, they’re matching dollar for dollar the contributions given to a group of youth charities on Giving Tuesday. It must be some mistake, but I’ve read the site five times and it seems to me that the tenth-most profitable corporation in the world has set a goal for the GivingTuesday campaign of just $50,000.

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As the Verizon Foundation puts it, on Giving Tuesday “giving back has never been easier.” For huge corporations, it’s also never been cheaper.

For more qualms about charities, check out my interview with Peter Buffett, who says philanthropists like himself should aim to put themselves out of business. You can see all GRITtv’s interviews, free at www.GRITtv.org. And if you are that anonymous donor, thank you again. Anyone out there want to fund that staff person for a second year? For more information on Giving Tuesday, go to GivingTuesday.org.

Allison Kilkenny reports on the arrests of activists during Black Friday protests against Walmart. 

TEPCO’s Risky Operation at Fukushima

Radiation fish

Far be it from me to distract from the important blaming and shaming around the Obamacare website. But if we do have a minute left for our actual health, can we talk about the radiation threat that seems to be soaring on the Pacific?

I don’t want to frighten anyone unduly, so I’ll quote the calm people at Reuters:

The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant will as early as this week begin removing 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel in a hugely delicate and unprecedented operation fraught with risk.

That’s Reuters. Nuclear researcher Harvey Wasserman says things more to the effect of “What the F’ity F. F?”

The point is, since an earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi Plant in March of 2011, the fuel rods at Reactor Number Four have been in dangerously delicate shape. They can’t heat up, be exposed to air or break without releasing deadly gas, but the cooling pool they’ve been resting in is leaky and corroded by seawater and could never withstand another tremor or quake.

Starting any day now, Tokyo Electric or TEPCO, is going to begin plucking more than 1,500 brittle and potentially damaged fuel assemblies out of where they are and placing them in new casks.  

Each assembly contains some 50-70 spent fuel rods, weighs around 660 pounds and measures fifteen feet long. And I did mention the pool is 100 feet up?

Operations like this are usually done by robot, but here it has to be done by hand because the rods are out of place and the pool’s still littered with junk.

In the GRITtv studios this week Wasserman compared the operation to the fairground game of lowering a clunky mechanical claw into a crowded glass box to snag a prize.

I for one, usually drop it.

It’s important we do more than hold our breath. After years of mistakes, cover-ups and fibs, nuclear watchers don’t want to give TEPCO another chance. A hundred and fifty thousand people have signed a petition calling for the world to take over at once.

It’s certainly a world problem. Tepco has already admitted that 300 tons of toxic water are belching into the Pacific every day, and as long as a year ago, Oregon State University researchers found traces of Fukushima cesium in West Coast Fish.

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What next? We can’t afford to wait to find out.

For the very latest from me, and to be one of the first to see what Wasserman had to say about the world’s worst nuclear accident, sign up to join the mailing list at GRITtv.org. You can also subscribe to an RSS feed of these weekly commentaries at SoundCloud

De Blasio in New York: If You Can Do It Here

Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio is now Mayor-elect de Blasio.

Take that, all of you who doubted that a candidate who planted his campaign on a promise of tackling inequality could attract enough support to win.

On November 5, New Yorker’s elected just such a guy by a landslide: 73 to 24 percent.

On Election night, de Blasio took the stage, not in some swanky corporate ballroom in a midtown Manhattan hotel but in the Park Slope Armory—a big, brick, Brooklyn building now functioning as a YMCA.

Now the work really starts. In a city that’s seen the richest 1 percent’s share of the wealth soar—from 12 percent in 1980 to 39 percent last year—de Blasio ran on a pledge to tax the rich to fund universal pre-k and after-school care. It’s just a tiny hike on incomes half a million and up, but it’ll still need the state legislature’s support.

Where billionaire mayor Bloomberg has shared the public largesse with the affluent—showering tax breaks on luxury property owners and increasing tax subsidies for developers by a factor of ten—de Blasio wants a “Unified Development Budget” that would spread subsidies throughout the city”and he’s proposed “economic development hubs” not just in the fashionable design and high-tech sectors but in every neighborhood.

He’s also proposed a new revolving loan fund that would free up credit for small and neighborhood businesses—as he says—“to fulfill the role most banks have abandoned.” But how about going a step further, as the mayor of Richmond, California, has done, to seize inflated mortgage debts from avaricious banksters, and force a reduction of what mortgage holders owe so people can stay in their homes and fewer homes get boarded up?

Or taxing, not just the richest New York city residents, but also the absentee oligarchs—like the ones who recently bought two $90 million dollar penthouses on 57th Street or the $55 million condo chaps who don’t pay any city tax because they actually live somewhere else.

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The Tea Party wing of the tabloid press is freaking. The New York Post has pretty much declared that socialists are marching on City Hall. De Blasio’s hardly nationalizing Wall Street (or driving Disney out of Times Square), but his victory is a triumph for the labor and community coalition that backed him: the Working Families Party, which Fox and friends love to hate. Working Families is being called the “left-wing mouse that roared in city politics” this week.

It all bodes for an interesting year. A non-billionaire mayor, backed by labor with a budget of $72 billion to dispense? It’ll be worth watching. You know what they say: If you can do it here…

This commentary is also available on Soundcloud. For more on de Blasio’s victory, read our lead editorial in the latest issue of The Nation.

‘After Tiller’: The Abortions No One Wants To Talk About

Dr. Shelley Sella, one of four doctors featured in the documentary 'After Tiller

A compelling film about abortion has been opening in theaters across the states. From Salt Lake City to Houston, to Columbus, Detroit and Eugene, After Tiller, by directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, has been stirring debate, and on October 30, it opened in Washington, DC, where it is playing all week. It’s hard to imagine a better time for this this film to be seen, or a better film to see at this moment.

Since 1973, when the US Supreme Court upheld a woman’s right to end her pregnancy in certain circumstances, many states have limited access to abortion after what is called “fetal viability”. Nine, including Nebraska, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas and now Texas, have banned abortion well before that, at twenty weeks, with few or no exceptions.

While the debate over the twenty-week abortion bans rages on, at the Supreme Court, and in the Senate, where South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham is preparing to propose a bill that would prohibit abortions after twenty weeks under federal law, the film After Tiller reminds us that although later term abortions are relatively rare, still, more than 35,000 women each year have abortions at sixteen to twenty weeks gestation and over 11,000 women need abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy.

Recently, GRITtv talked to Martha Shane about her decision to make After Tiller, and Dr. Susan Robinson, one of the doctors in the film, and one of just four doctors still left in the US willing to perform those critically needed later-term abortions.

“I think that people have no idea about how desperate women are,” says Dr. Robinson. Since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009 and the closing of his clinic in Wichita, Kansas, access to abortion care has shrivelled. In 87 percent of US counties, there are no abortion services at all, and it’s even worse than that for women who need the procedure late, usually because of late diagnosis of a fetal anomaly or a late diagnosis of the pregnancy.

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“These are women who find themselves in intolerable circumstances and are willing to do anything to be not pregnant. This is not a decision that they understake casually. They are not just putting it off because they don’t know what to do.” Dr. Robinson explains.

An intimate look at the abortions no one wants to talk about, After Tiller turns a compassionate lens on a complicated, multi-faceted issue. For more on this topic, watch this interview with lawyer and activist Lynn Paltrow: “At What Point in Pregnancy Does A Woman’s Personhood End?”

We Need a Robin Hood Tax—Not Cuts in Food Stamps

Cuts to food stamps hit 47 million Americans on November 1. (AP Photo/Rich Pedro

I saw a man dressed as Robin Hood on Halloween and I almost begged him to stay around.

We need Robin Hood and his merry band of wealth redistribution specialists not just on Halloween but every day, and this year in particular we need him on November 1.

That’s when $332 million in cuts to the food stamp or SNAP program go into effect. Three point one million low-wage workers, seniors, veterans and children are losing urgently needed aid. And that’s just the cuts the president and Congress enacted in 2010. We need Robin Hood because Congress is talking about taking $39 billion more. And we need Robin because while 1.2 million poor children are going to be eating even less, 400 already rich Americans are enjoying even more.

Take a look at the Forbes 400 List. While the working poor have taken cut after cut, the richest Americans have seen their wealth double in the last ten years.Robin Hood on Halloween

We need Robin Hood because collectively those 400 are worth just over $2 trillion dollars. That’s two thousand billion. We only need the small change on that to stop those food stamp cuts. Robin Hood would know what to do.

He’d head over to Steve A. Cohen. It says in the papers that he’s getting ready to sell some of his art collection at auction. Steve Cohen has no business selling art. He has no business being on the street. Steve Cohen should be in jail. Cohen heads up SAC Capital—a hedge fund. Six of his former employees have pleaded guilty to insider trading. The firm’s facing criminal and civil suits and fines and penalties, but Cohen’s not even feeling it because he’s worth $9.4 billion dollars.

Steven Cohen could wake up tomorrow and restore those $332 million in cut food stamps—and make it back by dinnertime selling Warhols.

Imbalance like this is too big a job for one man, even with a merry band. Luckily there is a way to keep Robin Hood around.

Nurses, AIDS activists and environmentalists were in Washington this week telling Congress how. What the super-rich hedge funders need to be paying aren’t fines and penalties, but their fair share of taxes says National Nurses United Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro. A tiny tax on Wall Street trades could generate $350 billion: enough to restore the food stamp program and then some.

There’s already a bill in the House: the Inclusive Prosperity Act so how about it? We need you, Robin Hood, and the Robin Hood Tax all year.

For more from me, including a report on how people are starting worker co-operatives to keep wealth in the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy, go to GRITtv.org. Subscribe to the “F” word podcast on Soundcloud.

Anyone for a Real Inform Act?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

It was early and I hadn’t downed my coffee yet, but for a moment I thought I was reading something important in one of those tightly printed full-page ads that appear from time to time in the The New York Times.

Headlined “Enact the Inform Act,” the ad called on Congress and the president to pass a, quote, “bipartisan bill to reveal the full size and inter-generational consequences of our country’s fiscal imbalance.”

As I said, it was early but my mind was off. Finally, I thought to myself, someone is taking seriously our country’s teetering imbalance.

To consider every piece of legislation from the point of view of its impact on that fundamental crisis; how great would that be?

Like an environmental impact statement, legislators would be forced to study the intergenerational effects of throwing society off kilter.

Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s book The Price of Inequality could be assigned. As he reports, of the advanced economies, the United States has some of the worst disparities. The gross domestic product here has nearly doubled in the last twenty-five years, but the benefits have gone to the top—the very, very top. Ninety-five percent of all income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent, while the typical American worker makes less than he did forty-five years ago.

This imbalance affects social mobility: affluent kids get a kick-start on education, at college and when they’re launched into careers. Edged out from all that, their poorer contemporaries never get a chance to contribute their full potential to our society or our economy.

As wealth congeals at the top, the rich disinvest from everywhere else—they don’t need public services, so they’re reluctant to pay for them—and as our public institutions are starved, so is our democracy, enabling the richest among us to most influence the politicians, and reward them for doing things like cutting taxes and shrinking government.

The intergenerational consequences of all this are macro-economic and monumental—think financialization, the bubble economy, deindustrialization, the crisis in education. It’s also profoundly anti-American: think Paine, think Jefferson. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be glad someone’s finally paying attention.

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But then, I hold the paper a little closer. The INFORM Act is not about any of those things. It’s about the deficit. The phony fiscal gap, not the flesh-and-blood one of inequality. The ad is signed by the 1 percent who want to do what? Cut taxes and shrink government. Who else can afford one of those one page ads?

Pity. Sometimes it’s good not to look too closely. Anyone interested in a genuine Inform Act?

For more from me, including, this week an interview with Green Party Presidential candidate, Jill Stein, go to www.GRITtv.org.

The Nation editors write, “After the Shutdown: No Time for Compromise.”

California Governor Signs Domestic Worker Bill of Rights


(Reuters/Luke MacGregor)

Early Thursday afternoon on the West Coast, Governor Jerry Brown tweeted a message: “Today, I signed a bill to help California’s domestic workers.”

Just sixty characters, the governor’s announcement brought Ai Jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance to tears: “Cannot stop crying tears of joy & pride. After 7 years of hard work & two vetoes, finally a victory for domestic workers in CA”, tweeted Poo.

The California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights will make California the third state in the nation with a bill of rights for domestic workers. (A similar law took effect in New York State in November 2010. Hawaii’s Governor Abercrombie signed a domestic workers bill of rights this summer.) Enforcement is always an issue, but should it be implemented as intended, California’s new law will finally provide overtime pay to an estimated 200,000 California housekeepers, child care providers and caregivers when they work more than nine hours in a day or forty-five hours a week.

“Domestic workers are primarily women of color, many of them immigrants, and their work has not been respected in the past,” said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who wrote the bill. “Now, they will be entitled to overtime, like just about every other California working person.”

A slightly broader version of Ammiano’s bill passed last year, only to be vetoed by the governor. What made the difference?

“Last year was hard. Getting up the next day was really difficult,” said Laphonza Butler, president of the SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, about the governor's veto last September. The SEIU ULCW was part of the broad coalition that worked with the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the California Domestic Workers Coalition both years. This year's bill was known as AB 241.

For all the tweeting on announcement day, it wasn’t short-form social media so much as hard-slog footwork and long-term coalition building that turned things around in 2013, Butler said. “What made the difference was a lot of community and worker activity that made the governor realize we’ve got to do something about an economy that keeps workers in poverty.”

Finances came in too. A year ago, Governor Brown was focused on solving the state’s deficit. Frustrated as they were by the vetoing of their bill, the coalition behind the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights put their person-power behind passing Proposition 30. Officially, “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education” Proposition 30—to increase taxes—was approved by California voters by a margin of 55 to 45 percent in November 2012.

“The work that the coalition did on passing Prop 30, created better revenue for the state and that opened up space for the governor to think about other issues,” said Butler.

The domestic workers’ bill was also weakened. Stripped out of Ammiano’s 2012 version were meal and rest breaks and part-time babysitters.

A federal ruling providing minimum wage and overtime to home healthcare workers was announced last week.

For why passage of AB 241 is such a big deal, see what Ai Jen Poo and Lourdes Balagot-Pablo, a California home health worker had to tell me when we talked at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles earlier this month. Or take it from comedian Amy Poehler, one of the many celebrities that got behind the campaign.

Notable among the bravos flying around the Twitter-sphere immediately after Governor Brown’s message was one from Hand in Hand, a domestic worker’s employers’ group: “Employers join domestic workers in celebrating!!!!! Yes we did!!!”

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Butler praised the governor, the legislators who were willing to take up the bill and push it a second time and the workers in two states:

Getting up and dusting oneself off [after defeat]. There’s nothing harder than that, but the voice of those workers said to all of us that we didn’t have a choice, that we had to move and go at this one more time. The success we all saw in New York, that gave us the hope that this actually could be done.

For her part Poo (reached after her tears had dried), praised the organizers: “I’m just so proud of our members and organizers in California who—from a statewide caravan to cookies—ran such a fantastic campaign. It’s a testament to the dedication and incredible capacity of the women.”

Watch out Massachusetts, Poo says that state’s next.

Today’s bill contains a three-year sunset provision: a committee will be set up to review the success of the bill, and lawmakers would have three years to make it permanent.

Take Action: Fight for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Your State

With New Protections for Domestic Workers, What Is Next for Big Labor?


(Reuters/Luke MacGregor)

This year’s meeting of the nation’s largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO, was hailed as historic for many reasons. There were more women and people of color participating than ever before, lots of first-of-a-kind resolutions on things like incarceration and immigration, and lots of welcoming of non-union workers like domestic workers to the big, old labor family. But what does being part of the family mean?

Domestic workers know a thing or two about familial relations. Described as “dears” and “saints” and “angels” by their employers, the “help” have worked for poverty wages in miserable conditions in Americans’ homes since the nation’s birth. In the widely eulogized New Deal era, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which labor unions praised, excluded people who worked in homes, in fields and in most kinds of retail and service work. It wasn’t called “special rights” for white men, but that’s what it amounted to. Even when FLSA was updated in the ’70s, domestic workers were still excluded. They’re not workers, the lawmakers said, they’re “companions”, members of the family.

It wasn’t until this month that change finally came to the FLSA law when the Obama administration announced it would finally extend minimum wage and overtime protections to domestic workers who have been cut out. It’s a change labor and community groups have pushed for. The question is what comes next.

In Los Angeles, Lourdes Balagot Pablo, a 61-year-old Filipina, told GRITtv about what it’s like to “companion” sick elderly clients in their homes as a live-in aide, twenty-four hours a day, in four-day shifts. If she gets two hours of uninterrupted sleep the whole time, she’s lucky, she said. It’s not what she was expecting when she was brought to the United States on a teaching visa. She taught math and physics at the university back home, but here she was forced to teach something entirely different, and when that didn’t work out, she found herself—like many so-called “guest workers”—jobless, paperless and thousands of dollars in debt to the immigration sharks who had arranged her H2B visa.

Her real family, let’s be clear, is in the Philippines, and after five years apart, she longs to see her 15 year old son on something closer than a Skype call. When they talked recently, he cried that he misses her, she told us.

The Obama administration’s new protection are an achievement. “Today, the Department of Labor took an important step towards stabilizing one of America’s fastest-growing workforces, and one made up predominantly of women, women of color and immigrants,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-director of the Caring Across Generations campaign. “This change is a long-overdue show of respect for women in the workplace and for the important work of supporting seniors and people with disabilities.”

But the changes, which won’t take effect until January 2015, won’t make everything right for women like Balagot-Pablo. That’s why the National Domestic Workers Alliance and others are continuing to push for more protections through state legislation. (California looks likely to become the next state to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The state senate approved the bill on September 11. Both houses passed a 2012 version of the bill, only to be vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown.)

Richard Trumka has fought for Domestic Workers rights legislation. He campaigned on the ground in California and both the AFL-CIO, and the SEIU worked with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Jobs with Justice and the Family Values at Work Consortium in the Caring Across Generations campaign to pressure the administration to implement the FLSA change. Indeed, by all accounts, it was that concerted pressure, from labor, “alt-labor” community, women’s, immigrants, seniors and disability rights groups working together on a shared agenda that made change happen this time, after repeated attempts over eighty years. A pledge by candidate Obama and the personal commitment of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis helped too.

But two days after the administration’s announcement, Alliance members were back in DC rallying outside the Department of Labor for implementation of the new rules. The week before that, they’d been in the nation’s capital taking part in a mass arrest for immigration reform.

In terms of the agenda of the labor movement, will real inclusion for excluded workers follow this September’s pronouncements? What would real inclusion look like, not just on the celebration stage, but in the priority-setting meetings of the AFL-CIO? What would a labor movement look like that saw what organizer/author Jane McAlevey calls the “whole worker”, and acted on the interconnected issues that affect workers’ whole lives: at home, at work and (gasp) at leisure? WIth reduced funds in their coffers, big labor’s donation checks to grassroots group can’t be the beginning and end of their “support.” A warm welcome is very nice, but domestic workers are all too used to being called family. As South African domestic Myrlie Witbooi told the convention upon receipt of the George Meany/Lane Kirkland Award for Human Rights:

“I can assure you many of you sitting here are our employers. You have us at your homes, when you are here.

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“If I’m part of your family you need to let me sit at your table while you get up and you wash the dishes.“

Big Labor is welcoming domestic workers like family. But are they getting up and washing the dishes?

You can hear an abbreviated version of this commentary on SoundCloud.

Take Action: Fight for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in Your State

Bhairavi Desai of Taxi Workers Alliance Elected to AFL-CIO Executive Council

In 2011, the National Taxi Workers Alliance made history when it became the fifty-seventh affliate of the AFL-CIO. It was the first time that a group of independent contractors, drivers who don’t even work for an hourly wage, gained affiliation with the nation’s oldest labor federation.

That same year, Republican legislators and governors went after traditional labor, passing laws that undermined collective bargaining not only in Wisconsin, but also in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee and many other states.

Not since the passage of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act have we seen such concerted attempts to undermine the rights of workers to negotiate collectively. Bhairavi Desai says, “Capital is unbelievably aggressive. They are unapologetic and they remain creative and they don’t take no for an answer. Neither can we as a movement.”

The taxi drivers don’t have collective bargaining rights yet, nor are they covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act which protects some workers’ rights to safe working conditions and overtime pay. But Desai is hopeful that affiliation with the AFL-CIO will help both parties:

“We are establishing ourselves as a mass base independent democratic workers organization, and through our association with the AFL-CIO [we are] building our political power, our numbers, our strength our resources to one day win collective bargaining.”

And the Alliance is bringing a strong radical tone. The “good old boys” of labor seem to like it. Last week at the 2013 Convention, more history was made when Desai, was elected to a seat on the AFL-CIO Executive Council. Desai spoke with GRITtv about why the inclusion of this independent contractors’ organization within the nation’s largest labor union federation is such a very big deal.

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