GOP to Workers: "Why Should They Get What We Took Away From You?"

Was recently listening to the journalists on Slate's Political Gabfest pondering why union density is so much higher amongst public sector workers than the private sector. None of them mentioned the most important difference: It's harder for a government to get away with running a terror campaign against the union. There's more oversight and accountability to restrain public sector management from threatening workers for union activity, implying benefits to keeping out the union or danger with it, holding captive audience meetings against the union, or just firing union leaders. Only some of these tactics are even illegal. And bosses get away with those all the time. (Check out this reportfrom Human Rights Watch, or this one from Prof. Kate Bronfenbrenner). Consultants get very wealthy guiding companies on how to run fear campaigns against employees trying to organize. It's a lot harder for the TSA to cut anti-union consultants a check than it is for Wal-Mart. When it comes to organizing, the fundamental difference between public sector and private sector workers is that public sector workers have a better chance at organizing free from fear. So lots and lots of public sector workers do.

Right-wingers' desire to crush workers' freedom to organize and bargain collectively, whether public sector or private, is old news. But the zeal with which newly elected right-wing politicians are going after public employees is based in a sense of opportunity - one that comes not just from high unemployment or the media's deficit hysteria or GOP electoral gains but from the continuing decline in private sector union density. Republicans are emboldened to go after public sector workers organizing rights because so few private sector workers are organized.

(Resentment towards public sector workers can take on a gendered angle as well, as in some European countries where the public sector is significantly more female than the private sector, giving politicians an easy subtext to wield against public workers.)

If more private sector workers had the right to bargain for pensions, affordable healthcare, and a living wage, conservatives would see less purchase in high-profile fights to shred their rights and benefits for the janitors, firefighters, and teachers who work for us.

You see this in anecdotes like the one in a recent NYT piece where a woman says "I don’t get to bargain in my job, either." This is the chutzpah of the Right: They erode the right for private sector workers to organize for a voice in the conditions of their work and their benefits on the job. They go after all the programs that help people to get jobs or provide protections that don't depend on a job. They attack public education, deny us public healthcare, and deride public infrastructure. They push corporate-dominated "globalization" that privileges the flexibility of capital and further denies people around the world a voice in the conditions of their lives. They throw up barriers to the political participation of the non-rich. They enshrine the rights of bosses to fire without cause, outsource with impunity, escape taxes without consequence, punish pregnancy and lock workers inside buildings. Then, looking out across the wreckage they've created, they tell workers: "Why should that janitor be above the poverty line when your job sucks? Who do you know that has a pension these days?"

In other words, the push on those of us who reject the right-wing future, besides exposing their shell game, is to organize. We need to defend the human right to organize across industries, sectors and countries. And we need to strengthen it and exercise it. Goes without saying that Republican politicians have shown far more zeal about being part of the problem than Democratic ones have shown about being part of the solution.

There's not much future for the American labor movement without turning around the decline in private sector union density. And there's not much democracy if you spend half your waking life under dictatorship.

Slacktivisim: A gateway drug to activism


On a listserv for progressive activists that I am on there has been a ongoing debate about the term and idea of "slacktivisim" generally defined as the feeling of being a activist by signing e-petitions, joining Facebook groups, changing your twitter avatar or similar actions. The general consensus that I agree with is that it's a derogatory, useless term.  

However I think the debate about slacktivism is a useful discussion related to a important debate that the netroots needs to be having about how to integrate the online activism the netroots is so good at: raising money, signing petitions, writing blogs and spreading messaging and the more traditional tactics needed to win campaigns and legislative fights: calling voters and representatives, canvassing, data entry, organizing events and training activists. And it's a topic I will be discussing at Netroots Nation on the "Yes We Did: How Blogging Can (and Can't) Support a Field Campaign" panel with some awesome activists from around the country.

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Learning how to lobby Congress

Tonight I attended an Organizing for America phonebank.  Together with other Massachusetts volunteers, I called voters in Maine to encourage them to call Senators Snowe and Collins and ask them to vote for a public option.

The event had all the trappings of a election-focused phonebank, except that our end goal was a bit different, and our failure rate (measured in refusals, and judging only from my own limited experience) was a bit higher.  As I dialed, it occurred to me that effectively, we were learning to do something that the progressive movement knows very little about - lobbying Congress via mass mobilization.  I thought I'd put down some notes about the lessons that I hope we'll learn from this effort, and my long-term view for this new style of governance.

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The People's Agenda in Washington

Just arrived at the Washington Hilton in DC for Realizing The Promise:  A Forum on Community, Faith & Democracy.  More than 2000 community organizers and leaders from across the country are here to talk with our elected officials including 2 senior members of Obama's transition team. st

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All is Not Cured Yet

If we stop organizing, Obama and the rest of us lose.  It's as simple as that.  In Philly we're getting the organizing started tonight with a Town Hall Meeting entitled "We Can Be The Change We Seek." We'll hear from some young political leaders, how we can get involved in the health care issue, and then break down into neighborhood groups to deal with the nitty-gritty of staying organized the Obama way.  And those neighborhood groups will get networked across our City.  And they will have a voice in City politics and also on national issues.

So, if you think Obama can now cure the common cold and stop global warming on his first day in office, you should not come to the Town Hall.  But if you think we need to develop effective, democratic and diverse ways of building progressive infrastructure for the long haul, and if you happen to live in the Philly area, here's where to go tonight: First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut Street from 7-9 PM.  

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