When: September 6th, 2013
Where: Cass Corridor Commons
4605 Cass Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48201
East Michigan Environmental Action Council, 5E, Heru, and the American Indian Health and Family Services invite you to the film screening of, Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience, on September 6th, 2013. The showing will take place in the D. Blair Theater of The Cass Corridor Commons.
Focusing on the lives and experiences of the Native/Indigenous community in the Midwest, Our Fires Still Burn is a one hour documentary that works to dispel the myth that American Indians have disappeared from the United States. The narrative that Native and Indigenous peoples no longer exist in the US has been perpetrated in many forms since the beginning of colonization in the US, with perhaps the most famous example being the book (and movie), The Last of the Mohicans. The narrative usually argues something along the lines that because Native peoples are now dead (or are actively dying), we need non-Native peoples to "save and recover" (read; loot) Native artifacts (very often including actual bones of human beings). Another strand of the narrative argues that names like Washington Red Skins are actually compliments that honor long dead tribes rather than the offensive insults that Native/Indigenous peoples say they are.
Our Fires Still Burns argues that the narrative that Native/Indigenous peoples are dead is harmful in that it invisibilizes and makes unnecessary the voices of the very much alive Native/Indigenous community. But as Our Fire Still Burns shows, Native and Indigenous peoples continue to persist, heal from the past, confront the challenges of today, keep their culture alive, and make great contributions to society.
The film viewing of Our Fires Still Burn will appeal to native and non-Native alike, and will be followed by a question and answer session featuring many of the people appearing in the film, as well as film director Audrey Geyer. Ms. Geyer is an independent video producer and director whose programs have been broadcasted locally and nationally on PBS. She is the founder and current executive director of Visions, an independent video production company local in Metro Detroit. Visions work focuses on creating documentaries that tell the stories of communities that are underrepresented in mainstream media.
As East Michigan Environmental Action Council co-director, Diana Copeland says, the most important thing to do right now in light of various attacks on marginalized communities in Detroit is to build community responses to those attacks, "Conversations that happen where we can begin to get to know each other are essential and will only make our communities stronger."
On Tuesday, September 1, UE issued the following press release:
At its national convention in Baltimore August 16-20, the United Electrical Workers union (UE) adopted a resolution endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) to pressure Israel to end the occupation and grant Palestinians their freedom. UE is now the first national U.S. union to endorse BDS. The full resolution is below.
The global BDS movement arose from a 2005 call by Palestinian trade unions and human rights groups. UE’s resolution also calls for a cutoff of U.S. aid to Israel and for U.S. support for a peace settlement on the basis of self-determination for Palestinians and the right to return. With its resolution UE joins COSATU of South Africa, Unite the Union in Britain and many other labor unions in supporting BDS as a step toward justice and peace in Palestine and Israel.
“We reached a breaking point when Israel launched the war on Gaza in 2014, killing over 2,000 people including 500 children. Because Israel has been unwilling to engage in real negotiations to bring about a just resolution to the occupation, this is a necessary step for labor to take in order to bring about a peaceful end to the conflicts there” said Carl Rosen, president of UE’s Western Region and a member of the national executive board.
UE represents 30,000 workers across the country in the private and public sectors. At its five-day convention member delegates acted on 37 resolutions on collective bargaining, organizing, and political issues. UE’s BDS statement upholds the union’s long tradition of courageous stands on foreign policy issues, such as being the first union to oppose the Vietnam War.
The Palestinian Postal Workers Union has written to UE in response to its resolution. “…We would like to express our deepest appreciation for the courageous resolution on “Justice and Peace for the Peoples of Palestine and Israel”… in support of our right as Palestinians to live in peace and dignity as equals on our lands…. We commend you for calling on your government to change its one-sided foreign policy that disregards human rights and harms any efforts at reaching a just peace, and for fully endorsing our call for boycott, divestment & sanctions (BDS) launched a decade ago. We sincerely hope that other national unions in the US and many other countries will follow in your footsteps. Your active solidarity warms our hearts and gives us hope that one day the working class all over will mobilize as one to help us end this brutal colonial occupation, and bring down the blockade, walls and checkpoints.”
UE General President Bruce Klipple says, “The widespread abuse of workers under the occupation is a concern for the global labor movement. We support our brothers and sisters in the labor movement who call for this peaceful protest to bring about a just peace in Israel and Palestine.”
The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, UE is an independent, member-run union representing both private and public sector workers.
Here is the full text of the convention resolution:
JUSTICE AND PEACE FOR THE PEOPLES
OF PALESTINE AND ISRAEL
In 1988, delegates to the UE 53rd Convention adopted the resolution “Time for a Just Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” In it they said, “The occupation by Israel of the West Bank and other Arab lands since 1967 has blocked the exercise of Palestinian national rights and resulted in ongoing violations of human, social, political, economic and particularly trade union rights of Palestinians…” The resolution said the U.S. government had “contributed to the continued conflict by its one-sided support for Israel and its failure to take into account the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people,” and it called for the U.S. government to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization and for the creation of a Palestinian state.
For more than 25 years the U.S. has engaged in a so-called “peace process” with Israeli and Palestinian representatives. But the U.S. role has remained extremely one-sided. The U.S. provides Israel $3 billion a year in aid and repeatedly uses its UN veto to shield Israel from criticism of its human rights abuses. The Palestinians are worse off. In the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel continues to confiscate homes and land to expand Israeli settlements which violate international law. Since 1967 Israel has settled more than 500,000 of its citizens in the West Bank, and has been building a wall that separates neighboring towns and cuts off farmers from their fields. Many prominent human rights activists including former President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called the system of Israeli rule over Palestinian people “apartheid.”
In Gaza, 1.8 million Palestinians are crowded into a tiny enclave under continuous military and economic blockade. In the summer of 2014 Israel waged a merciless war on the impoverished population of Gaza. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed. The vast majority were civilians, including more than 500 children; and the physical destruction was overwhelming. UE’s officers issued a statement expressing our union’s alarm and over 300 Holocaust survivors and descendants signed a full-page newspaper ad that condemned the Israeli attack as genocide and declared, “never again must mean never again for anyone.” Yet incredibly, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously at the time to endorse Israel’s actions.
The source of the conflict goes back to the origins of the State of Israel. The population was overwhelmingly Palestinian Arab (Muslim and Christian) before 1947-48, when well-armed Zionist militias seized most of the territory of Palestine and expelled 750,000 people from their cities, villages and farms. They executed much of the Palestinian leadership and declared the founding of the State of Israel. As a result millions of Palestinians are refugees both in the occupied territories and in other countries. Israel prohibits their return to their homes.
In recent years racism and extremism in Israel has grown more severe. One-fifth of Israeli citizens are Palestinians who survived ethnic cleansing. Some members of parliament, including cabinet members in Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s government, call for stripping their citizenship and expelling them. Some also call for expelling all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and annexing them to Israel. The “peace process”, supposedly aimed at negotiating the terms of Palestinian statehood in those territories, has been dead at least since March when Netanyahu, in his reelection campaign, declared he would never accept a Palestinian state.
In July 2005 Palestinian trade unions and hundreds of Palestinian civil society organizations called for a worldwide campaign of boycotts to pressure Israel to end its apartheid over the Palestinians. This has developed into a global movement called Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions. BDS was modeled after the 1980s international solidarity campaign that put economic pressure on South Africa’s government which helped end apartheid.
The summer 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza increased worldwide support for BDS. UE Local 150 endorsed BDS. The largest union in Britain, UNITE, endorsed BDS in July 2014. UAW Local 2865, which represents 13,000 graduate employees of the University of California, also endorsed BDS last year. COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions that helped defeat apartheid in that country, is a strong backer of BDS. Many progressive Jewish organizations and individuals, in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere actively support BDS as a way to bring about peace and justice for the people of Israel and Palestine.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 74th UE CONVENTION:
1. Calls on Congress and the Administration to end all U.S. military aid to Israel; and to pressure Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza and negotiate a peace agreement on the basis of equality, democracy, and human rights for the Palestinian and Israeli people, including Palestinian self determination and the right of return for refugees.
2. Endorses the BDS movement and urges the union at all levels to become engaged in BDS and the movement for peace, justice and equality between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The final session of the UE 74th National Convention on Thursday morning, August 20, discussed and approved several more resolutions, including "Stop the Dismantling of Public Education", "Build Union Co-ops", "Justice and Peace for the Peoples of Palestine and Israel," "For Peace, Jobs, and a Pro-Worker Foreign Policy", "Defend Civil Liberties", "Support the Family Farmer", "Fight Workplace Closings," "For a Safe and Healthy Workplace, Fix OSHA Now", and "Workplace Struggle."
Delegates upheld the UE tradition of taking courageous stands on foreign policy issues when they adopted the resolution on Palestine and Israel. It points to Israel’s long history of violating the human rights of the Palestinians, starting with the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48 that turned most of Palestine into the State of Israel. It calls for cutting off U.S. aid to Israel, U.S. support for a peace settlement on the basis of self-determination for Palestinians and the right to return. The resolution also endorses the worldwide BDS movement – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – to pressure Israel to end its apartheid over the Palestinians just as similar tactics helped to end South African apartheid in the 1980s. UE is now the first U.S. national union to endorse BDS.
Speaking for the resolution were Angaza Laughinghouse, Local 150, Matt Braddon, Local 222; Chris Wolford, Local 170; Autumn Martinez and Elizabeth Jesdale, Local 255. Martinez and Jesdale said they had met Palestinian trade unionists when they attended the World Social Forum in Tunisia, and Martinez said, “It’s absolutely disgusting what is going on. Free Palestine!”
The convention also adopted a resolution on numerous military and foreign policy issues from an independent labor perspective. “For Peace, Jobs and a Pro-Worker Foreign Policy” endorses the work of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW); calls for reducing the military budget while improving the pay and benefits of military personnel and veterans and converting to peaceful uses of resources now devoted to the military; demands the end of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and other regions; calls for negotiation to resolve the Ukraine crisis; supports Zenroren’s call for demilitarization in Japan; and supports the agreement to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
“The labor movement needs to have its own independent foreign policy,” said Carl Rosen, Western Region president. Cettina Costagliola, Local 255, talked about meeting Zenroren members who came to New York in April to march for nuclear disarmament. “I’m so glad our Young Activists got to meet with Zenroren,” said Marie Lausch, Local 222. “We to get rid of this culture of war.” Mike Ferritto, Local 506, talked about what he learned a few years ago on a Young Activist delegation to Japan. Brandon Dutton, Local 1161, said, “We have done enough damage. We need to get out of the Middle East.”
Delegates approved a resolution, “Defend Our Civil Liberties.” Peter Knowlton, Northeast Region, compared the role of the police to that of workplace supervisors. “We know from our own experience that what the boss says isn’t necessarily so.” But questioning a police officer, or just putting your hands in your pocket at the wrong time, can get you killed if you’re black or Latino. “We have to have a better understanding of government repression,” said Angaza Laughinghouse, Local 150.
Another resolution adopted Thursday was “For a Safe and Healthy Workplace, Fix OSHA Now!” Chris Wolford, Local 170, said, “We lost one of our members who worked for the Department of Highways when he was killed on the job, so this resolution is very important to us. The local has been fighting for OSHA protection for West Virginia public employees. Scott Slawson said Local 506 is circulating a petition calling for OSHA protection for public employees in Pennsylvania. Jay Huffton, Local 160, and Joni Anderson, Local 1107, also spoke on the resolution.
Delegates spoke about job losses and plant closings when the resolution “Fight Workplace Closings” was brought to the floor. Local 243 is losing jobs to robots and transfer of work to Mexico, said Ray Pompano. Their company, Sargent, is now owned by Assa Abloy, a multinational giant in the lock industry. Scott Slawson spoke about the fights waged by Locals 506 and 332 against GE moving UE work to low-wage non-union plants. Fred Harris, Local 601, also spoke for the resolution.
Jeanette Gabriel, Local 896; Senowa Mize-Fox, Local 203; and Kevin Yancey, Local 150, spoke for the resolution “Stop the Dismantling of Public Education.” Elizabeth Jesdale, Local 203, spoke on “Build Union Co-ops for Economic Justice.” Senowa Mize-Fox, Local 203, proposed an amendment to the resolution “Support the Family Farmer” to strengthen UE’s support for rights of farm workers. The changes and the resolution were approved by delegates. Delegates approved without discussion the resolution “Workplace Struggles”, as well as a packet of resolutions distributed earlier in the week. These included “End Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”; “End the Cuban Blockade”; Promote Rail Transportation”; “Protect Our Planet for Future Generations”; “Protect the Rights of Healthcare Workers”; “Stop the Ten-Hour Day”; “UE Retiree Committees: A Wealth of Experience.”
Wednesday afternoon, August 19 at the UE Convention included discussion and approval of several amendments to the UE Constitution and a few additional resolutions, election of officers, and paying tribute to two longtime UE leaders who will be stepping down and retiring.
The salaries of UE national officers and staff are spelled out in the UE Constitution, which requires their pay "not to exceed an amount equal to the highest weekly wage paid in the industry." Granting a raise to UE officers and staff requires a convention vote to amend the pay provisions of teh Constitution, and ratification by a majority of the rank-and-file members in local membership meetings. Constitution Committee co-conveners Carl Rosen, Western Region; Scott Slawson, Local 506; and Ray Pompano, Local 243 presented the committee’s recommendation, which included no raises for the coming year, and 3 percent raises in the following year, effective December 1, 2016. Delegates approved the amendments on the salaries of the national officers and staff. They also approved an amendment that will increase the per diem meal allowance for officers and staff away from their home cities on union business, effective December 1, 2016, from $28 to $33 a day. Delegates approved deleting some obsolete language about the old per capita dues system, and authorized transfers of money between different union funds.
The delegates then took up the resolution “Restore the Right to Strike.” Andy Weinberg and Brian McPherson, both from Local 279, spoke about their local’s exemplary strike last winter. “Plan your strike very well. It’s very important to have the community behind you 100 percent,” said McPherson.
Scott Slawson, Local 506, said the UE-GE contract includes the right to strike on grievances, a right his local exercises. “If there is a threat it gives us power. This resolution goes hand-in-hand with organizing.” Mike Wells, Local 267 at the University of Vermont, said the only public sector workers who can legally strike in Vermont are teachers, but “I started a rumor that we were going to strike anyway.” Anthony Watts, Local 1135, said his local was helped in negotiations by the company being “so scared that we might strike.”
Delegates discussed and approved a resolution titled, “Preserving Democratic Member-Run Unionism.” Scott Slawson said, “I was in the United Steelworkers. It is staff-run. The beauty of this union is that the national officers don’t run it, we do.” Sharry Niedfeldt, Local 1161 and Marie Lausch, talked about their experiences in less-democratic unions than UE. “I learned a lot in UE. Local officers need to work together. I tell members, ‘You are the union, not us.’” Also speaking on the resolution were Mike Ferritto, Local 506; Elizabeth Nikazmerad and Kathleen Coonrod, Local 203; Carl Rosen, Western Region; and Becky Dawes, Local 893.
The convention approved a resolution on coalition building, “Build Jobs with Justice and the People’s Movement,” on which Elizabeth Jesdale, Local 255, spoke. Delegates also approved a resolution on economic policy, “A Just Economy for All,” on which Bonita Johnson, Local 150; Joni Anderson, Local 1107; Scott Slawson and Mike Ferritto spoke.ELECTION OF OFFICERS
President Klipple, reminding delegates that he is not running for reelection, called for nominations for general president of UE. Autumn Martinez, Local 255, nominated Peter Knowlton, who has served for years as president of the Northeast Region. Bryan Martindale, Local 1421, seconded the nomination. With no further nominations, delegates voted to instruct the secretary-treasurer to cast a single ballot in the name of Peter Knowlton, thereby electing him president. Peter walked to the dais as delegates stood to applaud, and gave a short acceptance speech.
Klipple called for nominations for secretary-treasurer. Ray Pompano, Local 243, nominated Andrew Dinkelaker, and Joan McAdoo, Local 792 seconded the nomination. There were no further nominations, and delegates approved a motion electing Dinkelaker. Andrew spoke briefly, thanking the delegates.
Next Klipple asked for nominations for director of organization. Scott Slawson nominated Gene Elk, a UE international representative with decades of experience in organizing and negotiating. The nomination was seconded by Marie Lausch, Local 222. Tamyra Levick, Local 208, asked if Bob Kingsley would run for another term and nominated him. Kingsley respectfully declined the nomination and drew laughter when he asked, “What part of ‘no’ don’t you get?” Delegates gave Bob an enthusiastic ovation in appreciation for his years of service.
With no further nominations, delegates approved a motion electing Elk. Gene walked to the stage as delegates applauded, and in a brief speech thanked delegates for their support, thanked the staff for their hard work, and pledged to continue building UE.
Klipple then took nominations for three trustees and three alternate trustees of the national union, one of each from the three regions. The nominations were made by the regional presidents: Deb Gornal, Eastern; Carl Rosen, Western; and Peter Knowlton, Northeast. The new trustees are Don Brown, Local 506; Autumn Martinez, Local 255; and Karel Hoogenraad, Local 1139. Alternates are Chris Wolford, Local 170; Jim Lynch, Local 222; and David Betsworth, Local 893.
President Klipple administered the oath of office to the new officers and trustees, and then brought the entire General Executive Board to the stage.
The session ended with numerous tributes and gifts to Bruce and Bob, thanking them both for their many years of hard work and leadership to UE. The testimonials continued that evening at the official convention banquet.
Delegates Address Political Action, Healthcare, Retirement, Union Budget in Wednesday Morning Session
The Wednesday morning session of the 74th UE Convention on August 19 discussed and voted on a series of resolutions. Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker also gave a detailed financial report and answered delegates' questions on the union budget.
The policy resolutions dealt with were: Effective Collective Bargaining, Independent Political Action, Protect and Improve Our Retirement Security, Healthcare for All. The convention also heard, discussed, and approved the Report of the Policy Action Committee, which selects major priorities for the entire union to focus on, from among the many policy resolutions. The policy action program adopted at the convention focuses on independent political action, healthcare and retirement security.
On the collective bargaining resolution, Local 506 delegates Scott Slawson, Matt McCracken, Ricky Steele and Mike Ferritto, and Local 601 delegate Fred Harris, talked about national negotiations with GE earlier this summer. Following the meeting of UE-GE delegates with GE workers from Italy the previous day, Slawson said, “Maybe it’s time to look at global unions” to deal with global companies.
McCracken highlighted the resolution’s call for effective communications with members. “The best way to piss off your membership is to keep them uninformed.” Ferritto talked about some local politicians in Erie who backed away from supporting Local 506 and refused to attend its big rally when they saw that the union was serious about standing up to GE. Now they are paying a political price because “they decided to stand on the side of GE rather than the workers.”
Cettina Costagliola, Local 255, said her local has seen a big attack on healthcare, and Marie Lausch said all 60 bargaining units in Local 222 are facing attacks on benefits. Larsene Taylor, Local 150; Mike Rivera, Local 1421; and Charlene Winchell, Local 1121, also spoke on the resolution.
Speaking on “Independent Rank-and-File Political Action,” Scott Slawson warned of the threat of the TPP trade deal. Elizabeth Nikazmerad, Local 255, offered two amendments to the resolution, one to equally blame Republicans and Democrats for union busting, and the other to remove a favorable mention of Bernie Sanders. After several delegates spoke for and against, each amendment failed.
David Betsworth, Local 893, spoke on how his local does rank-and-file lobbying of state legislators. He also described the effort the previous day by four officers of his local, including him, to meet with officials of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Baltimore area, to convince them not to approve the plan of Iowa’s governor to privatize Medicaid and wipe out many Local 893 jobs. After being an appointment, the Local 893 leaders decided to go anyway. They had to get through many hurdles, including phalanxes of armed guards, but they eventually got a 45-minute meeting with two deputy directors, who told them the Iowa privatization was “not a done deal.” Betsworth concluded that we fight a lot of battles, “some you win, some you lose. We consider this a win.”
Also speaking on the political action resolution were Angaza Laughinghouse, Local 150; Peter Knowlton, Northeast Region; and Cettina Costagliola, Local 255.
Following approval of the political action resolution the convention went into a closed session in which Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker gave the financial report.
Delegates then heard, discussed and approved the Policy Action Report, which identified independent political action, healthcare, and retirement security as top action priorities. Christine Brown, Local 208 and Scott Slawson spoke on the importance of the retirement issue. “Use this in your locals, as we do in Local 222,” said Marie Lausch. “Go over it with your members. It’s not a dead document. Look at it every few months.”
Next was the resolution, “Protect and Expand Our Retirement Security.” Several delegates spoke in favor of preserving and expanding Social Security and lifting the income cap on the Social Security tax to make high earners pay their fair share and ensure the viability of the program for many decades to come. Sharry Niedfeldt, Local 1161, said that with politicians proposing to raise the retirement age, she can’t imagine how long her kids and grandkids will have to work to get full Social Security. “Corporations need to pay their fair share.”
Matthew Braddon, Local 222, thanked delegates for thinking about the future of young workers. Also speaking on the resolution were Mike Ferritto; Joni Anderson, Local 1107; Marie Lausch and Scott Slawson.
“Healthcare for All” was the final resolution of the morning session, and it includes a brief critique of the current healthcare system, calls for a single-payer national health insurance system, lays out some principles for locals bargaining over health insurance, and calls for defense of Medicare, Medicaid, and VA health benefits for veterans. Emma Paradis, Local 255, and Elizabeth Nikazmerad, Local 203 talked about Vermont locals’ fightback against their governor’s betrayal of single payer. Tamyra Levick, Local 208, said the elderly get nothing for free. “There’s something wrong with a system that is not taking care of the elderly, children and the working class.”
Nathanette Mayo, Local 150, and Joni Anderson, Local 1107, said we need to pursue the fight for paid sick days for all working people. Kevin Yancey, Local 150, made an impassioned plea for veterans. “We send people off whole to fight wars they shouldn’t be in. They come back in pieces, or in bags. Our system does not take care of vets. You see so many homeless vets.”
Also speaking on the healthcare resolution were Leo Grzegorszewski and Matt McCracken, Local 506; Dolores Phillips, Local 1118; Sharry Niedfeldt, Local 1161; Bonita Johnson, Local 150; Phil Dedera, Local 1177; Ron McCollough, Local 155; and Brandon Dutton, Local 1161.
On Monday afternoon, August 17, following two very busy sessions conducting the business oif the convention, UE Convention delegates marched to Baltimore City Hall to rally for Black Lives Matter, the Fight for 15 and a Union, and in support of hotel workers at the Baltimore Hilton, where the convention is being held, who are fighting for a fair contract through their union, UNITE HERE. Hotel workers joined UE in the march.
UE delegates were joined by members of other Baltimore unions and social justice organization. The march was led by Baltimore UE Locals 120 and 121. After UE members and allies arrived at the grounds of city hall, labor singers performed to set the tone. They were Anne Feeney of Pittsburgh, and the Fruit of Labor, composed of UE Local 150 delegates Nathanette Mayo, Angaza Laughinghouse and Darrion Smith.
In his remarks, Kingsley said, “Something is wrong when an unarmed black man is seven time more likely to die by police gunfire than an unarmed white man. Something is wrong when African American members of my union are twice as likely to be arrested and four times as likely to experience physical violence in the hands of the police. And something is wrong when in community after community we are militarizing our police forces.”
The other reason we are here, said Kingsley, is because workers in Baltimore and across America need a raise. “It’s time to Fight for $15 and a Union. We know it’s time because something is wrong when the federal minimum wage is worth less today than it was back in 1968… And something is wrong when workers wanting to form a union to improve their lot confront a minefield of trouble from employers and union busters willing to break the law to break their will.”
Kingsley noted that UE’s members in Baltimore, Local 120 at Locke Insulator and Loca1 121 at Clendenin Brothers, “helped us conceive and organize today’s rally. They were our inspiration for bringing our national convention to Baltimore.”
The next speaker was James Cook, president of UE Local 120, who talked about the commitment of his local to fight to make Baltimore a better place for all working people. He was followed by Leticia Lyles, an airport worker active in a union organizing committee with UNITE HERE Local 7. John Holmes, a shop steward in AFSCME Local 44, described his union’s current fight with the administration of the Baltimore public schools.
Rev. Grayland Hagler, the minister/organizer from Washington who inspired and thrilled delegates with his speech to the convention on Sunday, gave a brief by rousing address at the rally, urging participants to “Don’t back down” in the face of government repression and oppressive bosses. Angaza Laughinghouse, vice president of UE Local 150, also spoke. The rally concluded with songs by the Baltimore’s Charm City Labor Chorus.
Thanks to UE Field Organizer Dennis Orton and the leaders of Locals 120 and 121, who worked to reach out to other Baltimore unions and social justice organizations in order to connect UE’s convention with ongoing struggles of Baltimore working people.
You can see many more photos from the march and rally, and from the UE Convention and related events, on UE's Facebook page.
CAAAV members living in Queensbridge Houses are dismayed at the recent discussion by Mayor De Blasio and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) defending their plans to essentially sound the death knell of public housing in New York City. In a press conference held at Queensbridge on Monday August 24, Mayor De Blasio in answering questions, stated that the City plans to sell and/or lease public NYCHA land to create thousands of units, divided roughly into half market rate housing and half “affordable” housing. The residents of Queensbridge that we organize, the Asian immigrant residents, are well aware that opening up NYCHA housing to market rate housing will only lead to changes in the community from small businesses to local markets. Such changes will be tailored to the new residents in the market rate housing, pricing out long time residents. Residents are also aware that the manner in which “affordable” housing is measured currently by the City, is a skewed measure which actually excludes low-income New Yorkers who are the most in need of affordable housing.
CAAAV members residing at Queensbridge believe that no decisions affecting them and NYCHA residents should be taken without established, democratic accountability measures, which opens the conversation to residents’ input and make their consensus and solutions legally enforceable. The vast majority of our members are limited English proficient tenants and need critical documents translated into their respective languages. They do not know of the NYCHA Next Generation plan because NYCHA’s language access policies do not address the various tenants language needs. NYCHA must change these policies and address the diverse language needs of NYCHA residents.
CAAAV and residents of Queensbridge demand that NYCHA make it a priority to preserve existing affordable housing and peg any future affordable housing to the local Area Median Income, which is a more accurate reading of the neighborhood’s housing needs. We also demand a more accountable, democratic process for residents to build their own policy consensus on what they envision for the neighborhoods that they have lived in for decades.
Following workshops, the convention reconvened late Tuesday afternoon to hear from international guests and discuss the resolution on International Labor Solidarity. Leah Fried, UE director of international strategies, introduced the guests from the FAT of Mexico, the CSN from Quebec, and for the first time at this year's convention, a delegation from the Italian metalworkers union FIOM-CGIL, including two GE workers from Florence.
Benedicto Martinez said the FAT continues to help worker get away from company unions and build real unions in their workplaces. The FAT brought a case before the International Labor Organization (ILO), the UN’s labor agency, against Mexican employers’ use of “protection contracts” with corrupt unions to keep real unions out. The ILO ordered Mexico to end this practice. He said solidarity is a two-way street, and in the relationship between UE and the FAT, we help each other.
Martinez will be retiring soon, and there was an exchange of gifts. He has been a guest at many UE conventions and other events over the past 20 years.
Dominique Daigneault president of the Montreal Central Local of the CSN, spoke to delegates by video; she had been at the convention earlier in the week.
Stefano Maruca, international secretary of the FIOM, spoke for the delegation from the Italian metalworkers. With him were Daniele Colosi, president of the FIOM local at a GE plant in Florence, and Marcelo Frascati, a FIOM representative in Florence. Maruca said we must fight against government austerity policies and against attacks on workers’ right to organize.
Several delegates spoke on the resolution “International Solidarity.” Kathleen Coonrod, Local 203, recalled her participation in a UE solidarity trip to Mexico last February. She also participated in the march against nuclear weapons in April with a large delegation from our Japanese labor ally Zenroren. “Solidarity is about reaching across geographic boundaries that corporations are now allowed to ignore,” she said. Nathanette Mayo, Local 150, said she learned much by attending the World Social Forum and it affected how she looks at her union struggles with the City of Durham.
Charlene Winchell, Local 1121, said she also learned a lot on a UE trip to Mexico, and urged members to give to the UE-FAT Solidarity Fund. Elizabeth Jesdale reported on attending the CSN’s national congress last year, and Carl Rosen, Western Region, spoke about a 2014 trip to attend the convention of India’s New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) and international work on behalf of precarious workers.
The resolution “Stand Up for the Rights of Immigrant Workers” was read by Nathanette Mayo, Local 150 and a member of the Resolutions Committee. Carl Rosen described how the employer at Kraco, Local 1021 in Compton, California, has been using immigration regulations to try to destroy the union. UE is fighting efforts to deport the leaders of the union there, which has made great contributions to UE, including a militant strike in the 1970s. Senowa Mize-Fox, Local 203, described fighting for the rights of an immigrant co-worker against whom the employer is discriminating because of his accent, although he speaks fluent English. Peter Knowlton, Northeast Region, and Phil Dedera, Local 1077, also spoke for the resolution.
Following the recess of the convention until Wednesday morning, delegates from GE locals met briefly as the UE-GE Conference Board, with the Italian and Mexican guests attending. The Italian brothers shared details about GE’s operations in Italy, the workforce, labor conditions and their union’s negotiations with GE.
For more photos from the UE Convention, visit UE's Facebook page.
The Tuesday morning session of the UE Convention, on August 18, included a report from the Education Committee and discussion of UE's internal education and leadership training, with delegates describing how steward classes and other education had strengthened their locals and helped people develop. Leo Grzegorszewski, chief plant steward of Local 506, described his local’s monthly classes for stewards and members. He thanked Eastern Region President Deb Gornall for her leadership in this program.
Cettina Costagliola of Local 255 said she learned a lot at a Labor Notes Troublemakers School, in particular from a workshop on retaliation and bullying in the workplace. Angaza Laughinghouse, Local 150, described the monthly “Lunch & Learn” program at several UE workplaces in the Raleigh area. Members together read an article from the UE News or some other source and discuss it to further their knowledge of labor history and current social issues..
Also speaking on the resolution were Rachel Walerstein of Local 896, Scott Slawson, Marilyn Simmons and Ricky Steele of Local 506, and Fred Harris, Local 601. Delegates approved the Education Committee’s report, “UE Education: Essential for Rank-and-File Unionism”, as a resolution which will serve as the outline for UE’s internal education work in the two years ahead.
A guest speaker, Fred Mason, president of the Maryland-District of Columbia AFL-CIO, talked about the importance of labor taking courageous positions, such as opposing the Iraq war when that stance was not popular. He discussed the importance of labor supporting the struggle against racism. Slavery was a dehumanizing labor system, and the legacy of 246 years of slavery, and 88 years of Jim Crow segregation, still affects our country and hold us back, he said. "Our fight is about more than wages, hours and working conditions. How do we build an America not based on corporate greed and capitalism?" he asked.
Following Brother Mason’s speech, delegates attended workshops. There were four workshops to choose from in the two-hour morning time slot, and after lunch another four workshops were offered. The workshops were: Organizing, Raising Cain in the Public Sector, Offensive Bargaining, What is Wrong with Right-to-Work and How to Fight Back, Fighting for Racial and Economic Justice: Black Lives Matter and the Fight for 15 and a Union, Negotiating Health Insurance Under the Affordable Care Act, How to Prepare For and Conduct a Strike, and Less is More: Effective Member Communications.
See many more photos from the UE Convention at UE's Facebook page.
The Monday afternoon session of UE’s 74th National Convention was devoted to the report on organizing and adopting the organizing plan for the coming two years, as well as a resolution calling for reform of the nation’s labor laws to restore the right to organize.
President Klipple called representatives of the convention’s Organizing Committee to the stage. Gina Reid, Local 208, read the “Labor Law Reform” resolution. Larsene Taylor, Local 150, and Elizabeth Jesdale, Local 255, read “Organize the Unorganized: The UE National Organizing Plan.” Klipple then called on Director of Organization Bob Kingsley to give the organizing report.KINGSLEY REPORTS
Kingsley began by reporting on the UE Young Activist Program, now in its sixth year, with participation from 24 locals in the past two years. It includes young members who were arrested at the Vermont state capitol last winter “when they sat in to say that health care should be a human right, that people should come before profits”; young members in Chicago also also arrested for civil disobedience the previous winter “when they put their bodies on the line to defend the rights of immigrant workers”; and “young members from all over the country who marched for peace in New York City , rallied for a fair contract at GE, organized support for striking bus drivers, and are learning through action the key skills needed by all union leaders.”
He said the Young Activists would be leading the convention later in the afternoon in a march and rally at Baltimore City Hall in support of Black Lives Matter and the Fight for 15 and a Union.
Kingsley then called to the stage the young activists participating in the convention, and delegates gave them a standing ovation as they marched to the stage.
He then turned to describing the current economic and political environment for workers and for organizing. “It is not pretty. The economic and political landscape we confront is frustrating and fraught with danger. The callous contradictions of capitalism are on full display.”
“Last year corporate profits were at the highest level in 85 years,” he said, “and employee compensation was at its lowest level in 65 years. The trend toward greater inequality in our society continues. Let me give you just one number to think about. $18,897. If there had been no growth in inequality in America since 1979, the typical middle-income household would be $18,897 better off today.”
What’s happened instead, he said, “is that nearly all the new wealth created in America is going to the very wealthiest. The rich are getting richer and the rest of us getting poorer. 99% of all new wealth created since the 2008 recession has gone to the top 1%.” Meanwhile, 40 million Americans work at minimum wage. The ratio of CEO pay to worker pay is now 373 to one.
“How did things get this bad?” Kingsley asked. “This much is clear. We aren’t as organized as we used to be. We aren’t protecting our share of the pie. In a little more than a generation we’ve gone from an America in which one in every three workers was in a union to one in which it’s one in every nine… The less we are organized, the more we will be exploited.”
“The answer, of course, is to organize. Build our union,” Kingsley said “The problem is our path is often blocked,” and he went on to offer examples of the fierce and often illegal tactics that bosses have used in their efforts to block UE organizing over the past two years.
“Politicians are another matter. They’ve gone hog wild attacking workers and workers’ rights since the koch brothers and other billionaires bought the last elections. Some of these politicans are just plain foaming at the mouth.” He referenced the governor of Wisconsin, now running for president, who compared union members to terrorists. “Another one said he wants to punch us in the face.”
Workers’ rights protections, said Kingsley, are now under assault in one state legislature after another. He recalled attending a big rally in West Virginia, where members of UE Local 170 and other unions are resisting a Republican/corporate push for right-to-work legislation.
“But no matter how bad the organizing environment may be, we desperately need to organize. We need to organize to rebalance the economic scales in our society. We need to organize to survive as a union and a movement. UE has been working hard to make it happen. Since our last convention we have organized more than a thousand workers under the UE banner.”
Kingsley praised the Fight for 15 movement, which is organizing big actions and putting a national spotlight on the plight of poverty-wage workers. “Most of the workers involved in our substantial or successful campaigns earned less than $15 an hour. The low paid portion of the workforce is the most willing to take risks, most willing to take action. It’s where the action is.”
“Overall, UE has added members in eight states since our last convention. We have signed five first contracts; five more are pending,” he said. The biggest win was in California, where 600 Renzenberger rail crew drivers voted 2 to 1 for UE in an NLRB election. “The big California win spawned other organizing wins at Renzenberger,” in Nevada, Ohio, and probably in Illinois, where we’re still waiting for the NLRB to issue a final vote count.
Today, he said, UE has a master agreement covering many of our new members at Renzenberger, and a new UE conference board “representing more than a 1,100 drivers across six states who have joined UE. The conference board, which held a meeting at the convention, will coordinate the work of our locals and allow to use our expanded numbers at Renzenberger to give us maximum leverage with the company.”
He then reported on internal organizing in Iowa and West Virginia that “added more than 100 new members in each of these states.” Another win in Connecticut brought the Colchester dispatchers into Local 222.
Kingsley then reported on UE’s ongoing organizing work in General Electric, where we leafleted and made contact with workers at 17 non-union plants and “also did in-depth work to build a corps of union supporters at GE’s new locomotive plant in Texas, where workers are paid only about half what our members earn at the Erie plant.
UE also supports pre-majority members-only local unions at GE in Grove City, PA and at Cummins Diesel in Rocky Mount, NC. UE works with Warehouse Workers for Justice to advance the struggle of precarious workers in the logistics industry. And we’re used international solidarity connections to aid in organizing.
The biggest win this year came “in right-to-work Nebraska,” where we organized nearly 300 workers employed by two contractors at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS) Nebraska Service Center, overcoming an employer anti-union campaign to win by nearly 3 to 1. The Nebraska win means that UE now represents more than 1,000 USCIS federal contract workers employed in four states.
Kingsley lauded the rank-and-file volunteers from Local 208 in Vermont and 1008 in California who helped with the Nebraska win, as well as Local 1177 members from Renzenberger Chicago whose visits helped secure the California and Ohio wins. Kingsley thanked volunteer organizers from several other locals who assisted in UE’s organizing work in recent months. “More than 150 members from three dozen locals volunteered to organize during the past two years.” Kingsley asked all of them who were present in the hall to stand, and they received the applause of the convention.
Kingsley also praised “the hard work and dedication” of the UE staff, and the delegates applauded the staff for its work. He then referred delegates to the proposed organizing resolution, “a blueprint for our work over the next two years. This resolution was reviewed, amended and recommended by the convention organizing committee. Its resolves are very similar to those in our existing national organizing plan. They include a couple of additional points of emphasis: broader organizing efforts among federal contract employees; continuing our internal organizing work.”
All in all, this plan lays a solid foundation for our union-buidling work. It also leaves ue leadership the flexibility to make some adjustments. A little flexibility is in order as this national organizing plan truly represents our hope for the future.
Kingsley wound up this portion of his report by discussing UE history. “Even the oldest among us are too young to remember the heydey of UE in the ‘30s and ‘40s when all signs pointed up, when we were the first union chartered by the CIO, when we grew to more than a half a million members. All of our memories are of UE’s struggle to survive. A few can still remember how we strurggled to survive the attacks by the government, the church and other unions that devastated and decimated us in the ‘50s. More can remember how we struggled to survive the economic carnage of plant closings in the ‘80s.”
"All of us know how today we struggle to survive a billionaire-funded barrage of corporate and political attacks aimed at neutering or eradicating us," Kingsley continued. "Yet, we’re still standing. We’re still standing. More than 50 national unions – half the unions in America – have merged or folded in the years I’ve been doing this job. We haven’t. We’ve fought. We’ve organized 30,000 workers under our banner. With all the churn and change and clsoings we’ve experienced, that’s what it has taken just to maintain our early ‘90s membership levels."
“But we’re still standing. Our survival is our success.” Kingsley credited UE’s survival to its “four pillars: aggressive struggle against the boss, a never-ending effort to organize the unorganzied, independent political action and international labor solidarity. We need them all for UE to be UE.”
“We know what to do when they do us wrong. We grab onto their leg like a junkyard dog and we don’t let go until a measure of justice is won. That’s who we are. That’s why there is hope.
"Long live UE. Best damn union in the country!” As he concluded, the delegates rose for a prolonged applause.YOUNG ACTIVISTS
Kingsley then called the Young Activists to the stage. Diamond Almedarez, Local 1008, reported on the classes the Young Activists had participated in the previous Friday and Saturday, and Elizabeth Nikazmerad, Local 203, and Don Harris, Local 150, supplemented her report and talked about the outreach they did to warehouse workers in Baltimore, and the Young Activists’ commitment and energy. We need to fight institutional racism, sexism and class inequality, said Nikazmerad, “And Young Activists will lead the way.” Harris asked if delegates are ready to make “the greedy corporations” pay more than a $7.25 minimum wage. “We need to start it at $15, and we need to let Baltimore now we’ve got their back.”HEARING FROM THE NEWLY ORGANIZED
Next, Kingsley called representatives of the California Renzenberger workers of the stage. International Rep. Mark Meinster and Field Organizer Fernando Ramirez gave background on the campaign. Then Missy Gollager, Local 1077, talked about their five-year struggle to get into UE, their contract gains, and winning back the jobs of 17 fired workers with back pay. Ron Russell of Local 1077 also spoke.
Field Organizer George Waksmunski gave the background on organizing among Renzenberger drivers in Belleview, Ohio, and a leader of the drivers, Randy Alvord, spoke about the low pay and other issues that sparked the organizing.
One of the newly-organized Renzenberger drivers from Mansfield, OH spoke to the delegates via video, as did representatives of the new members in Iowa, West Virginia and Connecticut.
International Rep. Karen Hardin introduced the new members of UE Local 808 at the Nebraska Service Center. Lacey Harry described workplace injustices that led the workers to call UE and fight to get the union. “Ever since UE came into our lives we have hope,” she said. Vickie Hilton talked about how workers fought back against the employer’s anti-union campaign. When management described the union as an outside entity, “we responded, ‘We are the union and we are here to stay.”
The convention recessed until Tuesday morning, and delegates headed outside to assemble for a march and rally at Baltimore City Hall.
See many more photos from the UE Convention at UE's Facebook page.
This past spring I was part of a two person delegation of GGJ members to the first ever International English Language Course on Political Training for Political Educators outside of Sao Paolo, Brazil. The 6-week course was coordinated by the Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra [the MST]) at their national school for political education, Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes (ENFF). I came as a representative of the Vermont Workers’ Center, and was among 60 participants from 47 organizations and 17 countries. Most organizations were members of La Via Campesina, an international organization primarily dedicated to the issues of peasant movements around the world and food sovereignty (GGJ is a member). Organizations ranges from small farmer movements in Zimbabwe to organizations that work with adavasi (indigenous) movements in India to South African trade unionists to members of the Kurdish liberation struggle to a leftwing Mexican youth organization.
ENFF is the flagship school of the MST. Since their founding 31 years ago, the MST has been committed to political education (or formação in Portuguese). They have schools dedicated to political education in all 23 Brazilian states where they have a presence. ENFF was built 11 years with the volunteer labor of over 1,000 MST members and many other supporters of the movement. It is a gorgeous campus, populated with vibrant flowers, inspiring revolutionary murals made by each class that had passed through there, beautiful architecture, small plots of food productions, and a design that emphasized communal space (a small plaza in the middle of a cluster of dormitories, with benches and a gazebo; the courtyard where we held our daily misticas; the open verandas where we had cultural nights, celebrations, etc., on both stories of the building that held the kitchen, cafeteria, and a small store with MST products). There was also an incredible library that held thousands of books on various subjects, from the history of revolutionary struggles around the world to social theory to agroecology (mostly in Portuguese and Spanish). The MST leaders at the school described ENFF as the “patrimony of the international working class.”
The school was coordinated and “staffed” by a brigade of 40 MST members who took 4 month shifts to help run the logistics and programming of the school. Like all groupings in the MST, they had a name and slogan: “Apolônio de Carvalho,” named after an important Brazilian socialist. To facilitate the functioning of the school, all students were expected to do “militant work,” volunteer labor to support the day-to-day needs of the school community. I was on the coffee team that set up and cleaned up for the multiple coffee breaks through the “school day.” Other militant work ranged from the production team that helped produce and harvest the food grown on campus; a childcare team; a cultural team that helped plan the “cultural nights,” helped with the programming for the campus radio station; collective laundry; cleaning up after meals. Militant work is a central part of the pedagogy of the MST, partly around wanting to put intellectual labor alongside other forms of labor and also as part of creating new social relations, where labor is about meeting collective needs and is not performed because of coercion.
We had classes 6 days per week. Every day began with a 10-20 minute long “mistica,” planned by each of us in our small groups (“nucleos do base” [NB’s]) and by other NB. Mistica both describes a particular activity and a broader concept. The activity is usually a short “performance” that tells a particular story about a particular struggle, while projecting a vision of the future. I put “performance” in quotes because the MST is emphatic that it is not “theater,” but rather an expression of reality as we experience it. Mistica incorporates symbols, music, art, movement, “acting,” participation by “spectators.” One of the misticas my NB planned conveyed the intersection of patriarchy, dispossession, and capitalism. One of the ones that Daryl (the other GGJ representative) and his group prepared conveyed the patterns of state violence around the world and their link to imperialism.
Many MST movement elders attribute mistica as the primary reason they’re still in the movement. It’s spiritual and intellectual sustenance, and stretches minds and hearts in preparation for the activity of the day, Mistica also described the overall “spirit” or “expression” of a group of people, the outward expression of collective revolutionary spirit.
An MST member riding with me and another classmate to the airport at the end of the program commented that our class seemed to have a very beautiful mistica. There were songs that were our songs (some people brought from their movements, others that were brand new and composed spontaneously); chants that were ours; countless manifestations of a profound camaraderie formed through intense, emotional learning together, sharing and hearing each other’s stories, working together, traveling together during the intensive “field week,” celebrating together during various cultural nights and late night festivities.
The coursework itself was incredible. The MST sees left theory as a living body of theory, and draws heavily from the Marxist Leninist tradition. Some of the more interesting courses were on the history and development of imperialism, the reproduction of capital in agriculture, a great session on gender, political organization, and popular education. There was quite a lot of healthy debate on organizational form, the role of the state, the legacy of colonialism and the persistence of racism, the dynamics between the old hegemonic imperial nations and the newly industrializing “BRICS” countries that increasingly play out imperial relations on a more regional level.
I learned an incredible amount about social movements in Brazil and around the world. From the MST, we learned about their incredible dynamic relationship between organizational form, strategy, and tactics. Their process of land takeovers entailed setting up an incredibly cooperative mini-society of several hundred families, a “movement baptism” that created the conditions for embodying radical new forms of human relations. The MST doesn’t actually legally exist in Brazil, and many of the movements represented there were very suspicious of the growth of World Bank and foundation-funded Non-Governmental Organizations and Non Profit Organization (seeing with incredibly clarity the ways in which they coopt movements and movement leaders).
One of the profound lessons for me was on the meaning of true internationalism and solidarity. The MST is in a very challenging moment in Brazil’s political and economic history: the ruling Workers Party has betrayed many of its original principles to the whims of international finance capital; the right wing is mobilizing larger crowds than have been seen in decades. Yet, instead of turning inwards, they continue to launch programs like this training, have helped started countless other movements around the Brazil, and remain committed to the development of an international revolutionary social force. In fact, I believe that’s exactly what see as necessary in this context, rather than turning inwards.
It’s hard to some up any one main takeaway from that 6 weeks. I’m incredibly inspired to be personally connected 60 people fighting in inspiration liberation struggles around the world. I’m inspired by the deep and broad commitment to political education and leadership development. I’m deeply moved by the way in which the MST both fights for total social transformation while building the new social right now. And I’m so impressed with the many examples of the ways in which strategy flows from a profound and sharp assessment of the objective and subjective conditions during this phase of advanced capitalism.
I had the opportunity to participate in the first “International English Language Course on Political Training for Political Educators”. The course was done at the Florestan Fernandes National School in Guararema, Brazil from March 23rd to May 2nd. I never would have thought that going to school at my age would be such an impactful experience for me. Now I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what participating in the course was going to be like but I have done many meetings, gatherings, retreats, trainings, conferences and delegations but this was different. I was one of about 60 students in the class from many different movements and organizations, and 17 countries. Participants in the class came from the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, China, India, Greece, Turkey, Canada, Trinidad, Haiti, Kurdistan, Mauritius, South Africa, Mexico, Sir Lanka and Tanzania. My classmates were great people with all but one younger than myself. Now I was trying to write about my time in Brazil as a report back but it’s not working so I will just share some of the highlights of my time in the program.
Let me start with a description of our life at the school, I am so glad I didn’t have a clue about the daily schedule and the expectations for our participation in the class before committing to participate. Our daily schedule was up by 6am, sometimes a meeting with my NB group at 6:40am then breakfast as 7, mandatory attendance for Mystica at 7:45am and first class at 8am, coffee break at 10am then back to class until 11:45 when it was time for me to go to work in the kitchen for lunch at 12noon. Then most days it was back to class at 4:00pm until 6:45 when I would have to go back to the kitchen to work the dinner shift and then back for meetings or class at 8:00pm. I like to say here that working in the kitchen was my militant work and the crew I worked with was amazing making for a great time. Every student was assigned a work assignment as that is how the school is able to operate, there are few paid positions at the school. Work in the kitchen also included participating in meetings to review our work and make suggestions for how we could improve things and resolve problems. We lived in dormitories where we had to organize ourselves to insure the room and bathrooms were kept clean and sanitary. Our showers were solar so that I was motivated to get up and in the shower early as to get hot water.
Our classes were intense, our presenters for the different topics/subjects were all great although some were more interesting than others. The lectures were good, the debates even better and learnings from my classmates about the issues they struggled with were great. We all had to give presentations about the organizations/movements we were a part of, our work, the places we come from and a little history to help understand the context of our work. We had classes 6 days a week and sometimes 7. We were organized into base groups called an NB, I was part of the Mycelium NB. Our class after much discussion decided to give ourselves the name Rojava and I’ve been known to refer to our class as the Rojava Family. A main feature of our learning during the program was the Mystica, a part of the program with a strong spiritual nature and an awesome way to do consciousness raising and political education. I have to say that for myself I learned more from watching Mystica, creating Mystica with my NB group and participating in Mystica than almost any other part of the program. Mystica dealth with almost every issue you could imagine. I was able with my Mycelium group to do a Mystica focusing on the case of political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal calling for his release and the elease of all political prisoners from US prisons introducing folks from around the world and Brazil to the history and case of Mumia Abu Jamal.
There were a lot of parties and partying but oftentimes the pace of the daily study and work schedule didn’t leave me a lot of energy to participate. We did as a class organize cultural night gatherings as we shared aspects of our culture, music and traditions and while these were great social occasions they were great opportunities to learn more about each other also. Our class had a number of very talented musicians, singers, poets, dancers and rappers. Many of our parties and social time included the consumption of cachaça, a Brazilian drink made from sugar cane and a perfect mix for lemonade.
I should say that we were in class for 5 weeks and did one week out in the field. I was with the group that visited indigenous communities and the town of Dourados. These Indigenous communities are under attack from huge landowners who kill, burn up holy sites and prayer houses, pushing people off the land and stealing land. I want to say here that one of the most amazing parts of my trip to Brazil was my time here, I was so touched watching people put their beliefs and spirituality to work for them. It was during my time here that I learned a lot about myself and began rethinking my relationship to what I believe, how I practice what I believe and it’s connection to my understanding of spirituality.
I went to Brazil to sharpen my organizing skills, get more grounding in my understanding of the theory of how change happens or has happened in the past, learn how to do more effective political education and learn about struggles all over the world. What I accomplished was so much more, I am now connected to an international collective who see all our struggles as connected, I am of the Rojava Family and working for a new world free of the oppressions, war and poverty that we know today is my promise to my friends, family and comrades.
On September 1,we’re teaming up with our long-time allies at Healthcare Is a Human Right-Maryland, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, Put People First! Pennsylvania, and the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, to launch the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative!
Tune in: Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative launch webinar
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific
Join leaders from the Healthcare Is a Human Right movement for an in-depth discussion of the experiences and strategies behind the growing movement for universal, publicly financed health care. We’ll give an overview of our campaign model, our collaborative work and our state campaigns, and we’ll spend plenty of time discussing questions from you, our audience.
RSVP for the webinar at http://tinyurl.com/HCHRCollab2015
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About the Collaborative: Healthcare Is a Human Right is a people’s movement organizing state by state to win universal, publicly financed health care as a major step toward building an economy and a society that put people ahead of profits. The Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative is an alliance formed by Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, Put People First! Pennsylvania, Southern Maine Workers’ Center, and the Vermont Workers’ Center.
Monday morning, August 17, was the second session of UE's 74th National Convention, and it featured extensive discussion on resolutions including Oppose Right to Work, Stop Privatization, Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Employees, Fight Racism and Still Fighting to Advance Women's Rights, all of which were approved. Delegates also heard from two guest speakers: President Larry Hanley of the Amalgamated Transit Union, who has revitalized that union and built alliances with transit riders to defend and strengthen public transit; and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), a strong labor ally in Congress.
Appropriately, delegates got down to business with a discussion of one of the biggest current threats to the workers’ movement in the U.S., the so-called “right-to-work” attack on unions. The resolution notes the spread of RTW legislation to Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan and the pending threat in West Virginia, Missouri and other states, due to the influence of the right-wing corporate legislation mill ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) and the Koch brothers. A pending Supreme Court case, Frederichs v. California Teachers Association, threatens to impose RTW on all public sector workers in the country. The resolution calls for work to defeat RTW and intensified efforts to strengthen locals and build membership where we’re subject to RTW laws.
Speaking on the resolution were Charlene Winchell, Local 1121; David Betworth, Local 893; Scott Slawson, Local 506; Raymond Sanders, Local 150; Joni Anderson, Local 1107; Marie Lausch, Local 222; Kevin Yancey, Local 150; Fred Harris, Local 601; Chris Wolford, Local 170; Elizabeth Jesdale, Local 255; Ron Russell, Local 1077, and Ray Pompano, Local 243. Wolford said he’d never thought he’d see RTW come to West Virginia, which has a history of worker militancy. Russell, from California, says he’s talked with workers in Arizona who mistakenly believe RTW legislation there means that it’s illegal for them to organize a union. “We need to educate them about the $3 an hour difference in wages between Arizona and California.”
Speaking on the “Stop Privatization” resolution, Becky Dawes said her Local 893 has been fighting privatization for many years, and is currently trying to stop Iowa’s governor from privatizing Medicaid. Marie Lausch, Local 222 and Mike Wells, Local 267, described their local’s fights against privatization. Also speaking on the resolution were Christine Brown, Local 208; Scott Slawson, Local 506 and Kathleen Coonrod, Local 203.
International President Larry Hanley of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) addressed the delegates. He said his union has made it a priority to build alliances with transit riders, a social movement to defend public transit and other public services. ATU has also put increased resources into training local officers and activists.
He talked about his admiration for UE and thanked UE for publishing Labor’s Untold Story, which his union uses extensively.
Hanley discussed the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 which sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. The shooting of Brown occurred at a time when the St. Louis Transit Authority was using racism against the ATU local there, trying to divide white mechanics from black drivers. This is institutional racism, he said. On the 2016 presidential race, Hanley said “The only real energy has been for Bernie Sanders,” and warned that the labor movement must not be used to “shut down the only candidate who shares our values.” On the wars of the past 15 years, he said, “We would have no war if the politicians had been honest about how much it would cost the American people,” both in the trillions of dollars expended but also in the loss of lives of our troops.
Following Hanley’s speech, delegates took up the resolution, “Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Employees.” Raymond Sanders, Local 150, recounted the investigations some 10 years ago by international lawyers and the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the UN which concluded that North Carolina’s ban on public employee bargaining violates international human rights laws. But the state still refuses to repeal the ban. Also speaking on the resolution were Kevin Yancey, Local 150; Matthew Braddon, Local 222; Jay Huffton, Local 160; and Delores Phillips, Local 1118.
The second guest speaker of the morning was Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD), who is also a candidate for the U.S. Senate in the 2016 election. She was critical of fellow Democrats for not putting forth a clear agenda. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), to make union organizing easier, failed when, she said, “Democrats walked away from it.” Woman and African Americans are mainstays of the Democratic Party, but are underrepresented in Congress.
She expressed her opposition to TPP and other “free trade” agreements which she said are about “trading away American jobs”, with workers and unions given no say in negotiating these agreements. “If you’re not at the table, you’re definitely on the menu.” Having listened to some of the discussion by UE delegates on resolutions, she told them that UE’s policies “give voice to the struggle.”
Numerous delegates made thoughtful and heartfelt comments, many from personal experiences, on the resolution “Fight Racism”. Brian Barrington, Local 1421, said his commitment to fighting racism goes back to his childhood when he heard a neighbor disparage his Japanese-American friend. Ricky Steele described how Local 506’s Unity Council has helped mitigate racial conflicts, although racism has not ended in the local. Senowa Mize-Fox, Local 203, who is biracial, described racial conflict in her own family, and an incident the evening before in the streets near the hotel when she was racially profiled by the police.
Shirley Harrison, Local 1135, said we all need to challenge racism when we encounter it in our daily lives, such as co-workers telling racist jokes. White members need to understand the anxieties black parents feel, knowing that their children can all-too-easily become the victims of the police. Ron Russell, Local 1077, talked about growing up in a racist environment in northern Idaho and striving to overcome that background. Also speaking on the resolution were Chris Wolford, Local 170; Diamond Almendarez, Local 1008; OJ Hammond, Local 683; Cettina Costagliola, Local 255; Bill Sutton, Local 155; Elizabeth Nikazmerad, Local 203; Mike Rivera, Local 1421; Angaza Laughinghouse, Local 150; and Marie Lausch, Local 222.
On the resolution, “Still Fighting to Advance Women’s Rights,” Eastern Region President Deb Gornall spoke about the history of her local, Local 618 at Erie GE, fighting for equal pay for women and against other forms of discrimination. Jeannette Gabriel, Local 896, commented on additions made by the Resolutions Committee, including a provision to provide childcare at union meetings and conferences, and calling for a women’s caucus. Bonita Johnson, Local 150, called for more protection of women’s safety on the job.
We are letting everyone eat cake at Community Voices Heard's Cake for Change Fundraiser, held by our Westchester Chapter!
The event will be held on:
Saturday, September 12, 2015
87 S. Broadway
Yonkers, NY 10701
No, Do not Feature
Family of 3: $35
CVH Dues-Paying Members: $10
Honorable Shirley Chisholm Lights of Freedom Awards
Feature This: Yes, Feature This