Earlier this semester, a full house attended a special forum entitled “From Protest to Policy: Policing in Communities of Color,” kicking off the Fall 2014 Labor Breakfast Forum series at the Murphy Institute.
The event was moderated by CUNY Prof. John Mollenkopf and featured the Reverend Al Sharpton, who talked about the controversial policing tactics seen in present-day and past New York City, the effect these tactics have had on minority communities as well as the effect they have on the overall crime rate, and the quality of life for all New York City residents. The discussion also looked at arrest trends and potential public policy interventions.
Reverend Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, is an American Baptist minister, civil rights activist, and television/radio talk show host. In 2004, he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidential election. He hosts his own radio talk show, Keepin’ It Real, and he makes regular guest appearances on Fox News (such as on The O’Reilly Factor), CNN, and MSNBC. In 2011, he was named the host of MSNBC’s PoliticsNation, a nightly talk show.
Since its formal inception in 2009, National Nurses United has emerged as one of the lone upstarts in the otherwise-contracting organized labor landscape. Defending nurses in the face of hospital budget cuts, the nurses are also fighting for increased safety for themselves and their patients.
“You can’t poison the air because your company won’t give you more money per hour,” she said. “You’ve got to fight for safety standards for the public, and you’ve got to fight in the public’s interest. If unions don’t connect with the public interest, there’s not going to be unions..”
It’s a strategy that other unions have tried recently, most notably the AFL-CIO, led by Rich Trumka, which is seeking to represent the rights of all working Americans, not just its members. The fast food strikes of the past year have also sought to draw attention to the larger problems created by the minimum wage, rather than just a union. And the most successful unions these days organize from the bottom up, not the top down, said Julius Getman, author of Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement.
“What I see is that the unions are organizing on a much more sophisticated basis,” he said.
But the nurses might be most able to lead a labor resurgence because of the fact that they’re highly-skilled workers, and not easily replaceable. Nurses are less afraid to strike than fast food workers, for instance, because they know their employer won’t have an easy time finding someone to replace them. That’s made it easier for them to speak their minds on things not necessarily related to their union. NNU has spoken out in favor of a financial transaction tax, protested water shut-offs in Detroit, and supported Occupy protesters.
On Friday, Oct 31st, the New Labor Forum hosted Bill McKibben, Jill Furillo, Chris Erikson, Estela Vazquez and Sean Sweeney to discuss labor and the climate justice movement. Check out some of the conversation here:
The next Labor and Policy Forum will be held on November 14th. Look forward to a discussion about the 2014 Midterm Elections, featuring Ed Ott, Sarah Jaffe, Juan Gonzalez Errol Louis and Michael Hirsch.
Last week, professors joined workers, community members and students who have been waging an 8-month contract battle with Utrecht Art Supplies, a conglomerate of Blick Art Materials. The activists served management with a petition demanding that Utrecht move forward on a contract and supporting the workers’ right to unionize and earn fair pay.
Murphy Prof. Stephanie Luce explained the struggles of low-wage workers, many of whom are students, in work environment like Utrecht’s:
“A lot of the students have a hard time just covering their tuition because they work in these low-wage jobs…They also work at a lot of jobs that have unpredictable schedules so it’s even hard for them to make it to class.”
One of the persistent tragedies in the history of the U.S. labor movement has been the repeated opposition of unions to organizing new immigrant workers into their ranks. Not only the old AFL, but even the more progressive and inclusive Knights of Labor, attacked new immigrants (the Chinese, in the case of the Knights), refusing to organize them into their ranks and even working politically to restrict the entry of international workers into the U.S. Those moments when the labor movement shed its xenophobia and actually organized immigrant workers — the 1919 steel strike and the early CIO organizing drives in basic industry — stand out as beacons of light and organizing success in an otherwise grim and dark history of exclusion and labor defeat. Even the contemporary AFL-CIO, as recently as the late 1980s and early 1990s, actively opposed organizing the rising numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America entering the U.S. workforce, precisely at the moment that the labor movement was in sharp decline in the face of employer and government intransigence and attacks. Continue reading Organized Labor Hopes to Grow by Helping Immigrants Gain Citizenship→
As previously reported on this blog, two weeks ago, the School Reform Commission appointed by Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett unilaterally cancelled the union contract of 15,000 Philadelphia teachers and staff personnel. The union president Jerry Jordan promised to “fight” the brazen action of the commission. Later in the week a number of the city’s union leaders met to consider mass action to protest and hopefully reverse the decision. Jordan said that direct action such as a general strike must await the union’s efforts to exhaust its legal options. The assembly bowed to his caution. But parents and teachers demonstrated at City Hall anyway.
However, as in Madison Wisconsin almost three years ago when 100,000 public employees occupied the state capitol to protest the right-wing Republican governor and his legislative allies to strip them of bargaining rights, the union leaders called off the protest. Instead they supported a Democratic Party proposal to recall Governor Walker and four of his Republican senators. The recall failed to unseat the governor and two of his allies, so the recall failed. But similar efforts to thwart direct action in Ferguson, Mo. by substituting a voter registration campaign were rejected by many black people protesting the murder of Michael Brown. The streets are still crowded with protesters. Continue reading Legal Appeals & Partial Strategies: Labor at the Crossroads→
A conversation about workers, communities and social justice