Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Occupied Republic Factory

Upon entering the factory you see the walls covered with written messages from supporters. Support came out from individuals, other unions, worker centers, immigration agencies, and area schools.

Behind doors the workers have formed a human barricade of about 200 UE members. They take turns, 8 hours each maintaining the line.

These photos are from the rally this afternoon at the Bank of America on La Salle.

Turn out was strong, especially for a weekday afternoon. There are talks of a weekend rally as well.

It is surprising how quickly the press was to call the negotiations finished. Even other union blogs carried stories that negotiations had been resolved. It is a timely process and even after they are through with Bank of America the UE must take a vote with its members. Just because Bank of America concedes a little doesn't mean it's anywhere near over.

You can follow the union on twitter for up to date information or check their website

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Deer Hunting With Jesus

I just finished Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant. It is an exploration into the political needs and realities of Southern working class people. Begeant's main thesis is that the average southern citizen spends so much time working and trying to make ends meet that they have no time to participate in democracy by educating themselves on current topics. Bageant points out that this is where the divide between educated urban liberals and the poor working class of the south has its greatest divide and most tension. Because those who make a comfortable living that affords them the time for these activities often neglect the socioeconomic situation and pass judegements. Bageant makes a thoughtful point when he states that it doesn't matter if news outlets blatantly get the facts wrong because these people are not fact checkers and are not going to question a corporate machine. There's no time. So let's say a certain news agency puts ridiculous lies out there or mislabels someone's heading during an interview, what is the likelihood that these people will just believe it?

Since democratic participation no longer constitutes citizenship consumerism quietly steps in to take its place. This was solidified after Sept. 11th when Bush asked Americans to get out and shop as it was the "most important thing they could do for their country." This dangerous mentality creates a downward spiral of credit card debt and personal emptiness that the interviewees did not know how to fill. (On a related note the television yesterday stated that winning American Idol was the "American Dream." So I guess we can forget about owning our own homes and providing for our families-the economy is going to crap so hope you can sing!)

What is also interesting, and has been pointed out by other various authors like Thomas Frank who wrote, What's the Matter with Kansas, is how political parties that have no interest in the economic lives of working people have brought these people into their party to believe it is in their best interests. Mostly because these parties prefer to build a platform based on single issues that provoke a gut reaction based more in heart than logic and perpetuate the idea that you don't have to be 'informed' you just 'know what's right.'

Bageant uses a historical legacy of Scottish cruelty to explain some current atrocities that I did not particularly agree with but overall it was surprisingly excellent, although some comments from interviews were terrifying. Some of the interviewees were racist, but I believe this speaks for the authenticity of the interviews because these are people the author knows and shares a community with. It is a light read, there are no notes or citations which always makes me feel uncomfortable when reading a book, but it is an excellent personal insight into these people's lives.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

EFCA--Reclaiming What is Ours

The Employee Free Choice Act will allow working people a greater ability to organize without having to wade through the red tape that is the union recognition process of the NLRB right now. This period of time is crucial to a newly forming union as it is when intimidation, firing, and possibly violence are at its height. The bill also incorporates higher penalties for employers that pursue these despicable tactics. As of now union membership is at an ever increasing low and it seems every turn we are giving up a little more. While this administration refuses to give up the notion that trickle down economics will work-- wage theft is a major issue. This should be an outrage! Not only an outrage but a wake up call.

We live in a modern society in which being paid for one's labor should be without a question, a certainty. However, Kim Bobo, director of Interfaith Worker Justice, testified before the Education and Labor Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives that employers could easily get out of back payment to workers. Researchers sited examples of businesses shutting down and employers simply "not returning the DOL's phone calls" as legitimate causes in which employees were not given past wages. It appears the Department of Labor could take great advice from student loan officers.

But doesn't that piece of legislation sound familiar? Seventy-three years familiar? Well it should because it was the basic premise of the Wagner Act which was passed in 1935. Why then do we need to reestablish this? Because of a little thing called the Taft-Hartley Act.

The Taft-Hartley Act, or its proper name the Labor-Management Relations Act declawed the labor movement. It made all wildcat and solidarity strikes illegal, crushed public support for unions, and forced union leaders to sign affidavits that they were not communists.

Taft-Hartley has been used by many presidents to decimate the efforts of working people. The Employee Free Choice Act is a positive step to reclaiming what is rightfully ours.

Plus on a personal note the Taft-Hartley bill was passed on June 23, 1947. June 23rd is my birthday and I find it insulting.

Occupy Resist Produce

A few years ago I saw the film "The Take," ( ) a documentary about workers in Argentina that had turned factories closed by World Bank/IMF fiscal restructuring into cooperatives. The workers illegally occupied the factories, barricading themselves in against police attacks, to earn a living to feed their families. Their motto was "Occupy, Resist, Produce!" Legalities were settled in favor of the workers since the previous owners of the factory fled the country with outstanding amounts of debt. The workers have continued the factories much in the tradition of Mondragon of Spain. (Which is also worth checking out-- )

Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis captured the frustration of the people of Buenos Aires as well as their triumphs. While the film was outstanding it left you wanting more! Luckily the good people at Haymarket books have put out Sin Patron, a new book detailing stories of some of the cooperatives. It was put together by Lavaca, which is one of the cooperatives of the region.

Sin Patron is on loan at Worldgoods for those of you who are interested. And for those of you not in the area I highly recommend picking this book up. In today's economy it sometimes feels like the good guys never win but Sin Patron is a story of hope, determination, and victory!

Profiting off Poverty

Product Red is a campaign of multinational producers that are each putting out a "red" item in which a portion of the funds will go to fight AIDS in Africa. The Gap has a t-shirt, converse has a shoe, there's a red myspace, a red motorola, American Express, and even Giorgio Armani hosted a night of fashion for the cause.

At best this campaign raises awareness considering the corporate counterparts are getting a much larger chunk of the profit than any AIDS victim in Africa, but much more this whole en devour is a large pat on the back in the form of an amazing pr opportunity.
Unfortunately there is a giant flaw in their plan.

The same cycle of unethical business that dehumanizes labor and has no regard for the environment is not suddenly going to solve the world's problems. The fact that the Gap is clinging to an "ethical" image is laughable. The company subcontracts its labor, a convenient method for the corporation to have no responsibility for how its garments are made. Just recently the Observer discovered child labor producing clothing for Gap Kids.,,2200590,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=networkfront

The Gap's spokespeople said they were deeply embarrassed by the situation and severed ties with this production outlet. But this isn't new. In fact the Gap has continuously been accused of employing sweatshop labor and yet each time they act surprised and hope to quickly cover the situation.

Nike, which owns Converse, also has a long sordid past of using sweatshop labor. So these multinationals want to raise awareness about AIDS, but not about the global economic politic that lands developing regions in these types of situations. Africa is in such a state because of colonialism and the fact that the entire continent was raped and pillaged in the name of profit. But now through the magic of mindless consumerism we can solve these problems? More likely the Gap, Nike, and the rest of them are creating more problems in different corners of the world. Maybe someday the Gap will have a shirt whose proceeds will go towards educating Indian children. And Nike can make a shoe whose proceeds will benefit the women of Mexico's maquiladoras. It's a brilliant plot to perpetuate poverty.

I guess the biggest problem I have with this campaign is that it reinforces our consumerism. Now consumerism is moral. Not only that but I can wear a t-shirt that lets everyone know just how much I care. Shams like this also make people with good intentions suspicious of worthwhile organizations and reinforce feelings of apathy. People can make a difference, but exploiting one economically devastated area to help another is not the answer.