That collecting rainwater on your own property in barrels remains illegal in Colorado is a great entry point into the complex and extraordinarily contentious water politics of the West, where every drop can lead to a legal action.
Author Page for Erik Loomis
On June 15, 1990, 400 striking janitors in Los Angeles who had organized with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and were trying to secure a contract with International Service Systems (ISS), who had the contract to clean many of the city’s downtown office buildings, were beaten by police as they attempted to cross a street. Around 90 strikers were wounded and 38 were arrested. This event galvanized support for the janitors and is an important event both in the history of Latino labor in the United States and the growth of SEIU into arguably the most powerful union in the United States during the early 21st century.
In 1983, the average wage for a janitor in Los Angeles surpassed $7 an hour and included health insurance. By 1986, that had plummeted to $4.50 and insurance had disappeared. This happened through a phenomena we are familiar with today–instead of employing their own janitors, building owners began contracting the work out to an outside company that put enormous downward pressure on wages and working conditions. These companies largely hired undocumented workers, especially from Central America, that they could control and who had little power to resist. Once again, we see how contracting out work so often leads to downward pressure on wages and working conditions.
What was happening in Los Angeles ravaged SEIU locals around the country. After a 1985 lockout in Pittsburgh, the union looked for a new campaign to fight back. SEIU sought to reverse these losses in 1987 with the Justice for Janitors campaign. The plan, developed primarily by Stephen Lerner, targeted building owners rather than contractors as they held the real power and could roll the higher costs of treating workers decently into the contract as opposed to a contractor then losing out to a non-union agency if the campaign targeted them. The campaign had early successes in Denver and Atlanta before moving on to the tougher, larger cities of Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
It was in Los Angeles that the movement achieved its greatest victories. Local 339 in that city became the center of the national campaign in 1990. Some of this came from the fact that the Central American workers who made up the local’s core already knew social struggle. These were refugees from the civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. They were, as a whole, less scared of civil disobedience than native-born workers, despite their undocumented legal status. They began following building owners to their nice restaurants and country club and heckling them, while using leaflets and demonstrations to get the buildings’ tenants to place pressure on the owners to settle the issue. This strategy also avoided the long and often futile process of going through a union election and dealing with the National Labor Relations Board. Given how long such a process takes and how that system has become co-opted by employers, it made sense to pressure employers to accept a union without an election. Effectively, the Justice for Janitors campaign borrowed many of the tactics of the civil rights movement to build public sympathy rather than the classic tactics of the labor movement.
Perhaps the most aggressive building owners and contractors were at Century City, a sizable office complex where International Service Systems had the contract. With the building owner and ISS unwilling to deal, the union led the janitors on a strike in May 1990. It was during these protests, on June 15, that the police attacked the janitors. They did so after shouting orders to disperse only in English with a group of workers who were largely monolingual in Spanish. As the office workers looked on in horror from the buildings, the police attacked the strikers for two hours. They used their riot batons to beat the workers at the front of the line, then engaged in a flanking action that trapped the strikers in a parking garage. When the workers tried to flee, they were arrested for failure to disperse. 90 workers were injured, 19 seriously. One suffered a fractured skull. One pregnant worker miscarried her baby.
This was an overwhelming error for the police, building owners, and ISS. Public sympathy overwhelmingly supported the janitors after the violence. The mayor of Los Angeles had mostly stayed out of it until this point, but after the beatings, he spoke out for the union. It seemed to many that the police wanted to teach these immigrants a lesson for causing problems. SEIU sued the LAPD for civil rights violations, leading to a $2.35 million settlement in 1993. The building owner finally caved and placed pressure on the contractor to settle. This led to the establishment of a master contract in Los Angeles in 1991.
This of course did not transform the lives of janitors overnight. Other cities, especially Washington, saw even more intransigent resistance than Los Angeles. To coordinate these national campaigns, critics noted how SEIU leadership rode roughshod over locals who refused to follow the international’s strategy. They claimed the aggressive actions against these locals undermined union democracy, while the practice merging small locals into larger state and region wide locals that could have greater collective political power but which isolated the former officials of those locals who didn’t have the power to win office in the larger organizations. I have to admit that I don’t have all that much sympathy for those arguments, as the need to get lame locals to actually do something may supersede idealized union democracy and the benefits of concentrating worker power into large locals has real political advantages. I know many disagree with me on this point and I guess it depends on what one wants out of the labor movement.
The campaign was one of the greatest victories for organized labor in the era and announced SEIU’s arrival on the national labor scene. By 2000, the Justice for Janitors had organized janitors around the country with companies seeking to sign new contracts in order to stave off more trouble. By 2005, SEIU represented 70 percent of janitors in 23 of the nation’s 50 largest cities. For the 21st century, that’s impressive density, especially for private sector work.
The campaign is also notable for representing the new inclusion of Latinos in the labor movement. For most of organized labor’s history, unions had been hostile to immigration, feeling that the competition undermined their wages and ability to win contracts. Sometimes this could get quite ugly, such as the Chinese Workingmen’s Party role in the Chinese Exclusion Act and the American Federation of Labor’s active support of immigration restriction in the 1920s. But the decline of immigration helped undermine the labor movement as immigrants have consistently provided new ideas and propensity for direct action to the movement, often in opposition to the relatively conservative unionism of native-born Americans. SEIU’s open embrace of immigrants recognized that Latinos were likely to be very good unionists, in part because of traditions of social justice they experienced in their home nations. Ever since 1990, immigrants have played a larger role in the labor movement, especially with the last industrial-style unions seeking to hold on against the corporate onslaught against unions, such as SEIU and UNITE-HERE.
SEIU has named June 15 Justice for Janitors Day to commemorate the event.
This is the 146th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.
Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.
People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”
Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.
But a moment of truth is at hand for Yuhas and his neighbors, and all of California will be watching: On July 1, for the first time in its 92-year history, Rancho Santa Fe will be subject to water rationing.
Will these people be able to survive if they xeriscape their yards? Or instead should the state reduce the water use of the poor to 1 shower a week while the ultra-wealthy open fire extinguishers to run down the drain because they can?
The Nobel Prize winner — and prospective presidential candidate — is seen around the world as a beacon of hope for Burma, but the Rohingya crisis has cast a dark shadow over her democratic credentials. As thousands of Rohingya flee to Burma’s democratic neighbors — Indonesia, Malaysia, and even earthquake-ravaged Nepal — the international community cannot ignore their persecution. They have suffered violent pogroms from Buddhist extremists. Their many successfully-run businesses have been burned. The government has barricaded them into concentration camps, where they are in dire need of food, water, and medical help. Aid groups that have been trying to help them face being banned from the country. Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi’s response to this — the greatest human rights issue facing her country — is shocking.
In 2012, she said she “didn’t know” if the Rohingya could be citizens. In doing so she aligned herself with the government’s official policy that the Rohingya don’t exist. In fact, Burmese officials threatened to boycott the recent regional conference to address the migrant crisis if the other participants so much as used the word “Rohingya.” This is in spite of the fact that the Rohingya have lived in Burma for centuries — some scholars say they are indigenous people of the Rakhine state.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s more recent comments are no redeemer: “If I speak up for human rights, [the Rohingya] will only suffer. There will be more blood.” Why the evasiveness? Aung San Suu Kyi is courting the country’s Buddhist majority, among whom hatred for the Rohingya is rampant.
The real lesson here for western readers is that heroes don’t exist and that the entire idea of heroism should be eliminated. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be disappointed in her–we obviously should be sad that she is so indifferent to human rights violations against a minority–but it does mean that people exist in their place and time, have prejudices, and generally are flawed human beings. That Aung San Suu Kyi bravely stood up to the Myanmar military regime for so long in no way automatically means we should expect she cares about the rights of minorities, as we are discovering. The more interesting question is what it says about us that we would expect to her to hold our positions on this matter? Western liberals found her a useful way to project their values on idealized figure from the developing world, something far easier to do when the subject is under long-term house arrest by an awful regime. But that she would be more than willing to sacrifice minorities to win support from the majority population, is this surprising at all?
This doesn’t excuse her lack of interest in minority rights. I just don’t think it’s remotely surprising.
Noam Scheiber’s dissection of how labor so successfully torpedoed the Trans Pacific Partnership in the House (thus far anyway, again I’m still suspicious this passes somehow) shows how labor can still win today. First, it is united and pushes very hard on erstwhile allies that are ready to abandon it. Second, it crafts alliances with other liberal groups, including environmentalists.
This time around, not only did the firefighters make a considerable investment — producing ads and paying to broadcast them in five congressional districts — but Mr. Schaitberger personally led the effort within the A.F.L-C.I.O. executive council to freeze all donations to members of Congress by the political action committees of the federation and affiliated unions until after the vote on trade promotion authority. (Mr. Schaitberger, who developed the motion, credits Mr. Trumka with helping create almost unanimous support for it.)
Mr. Schaitberger acknowledged some apprehension within the labor movement about denying money even to longtime congressional allies, but he argued that it had been the most effective way to persuade friendly members of Congress to pressure wavering Democratic lawmakers. “We wanted to encourage those members to use their influence, their passion for our position, to move some of their colleagues,” he said.
Even labor’s opponents marveled at the cohesion unions brought to the fight. John Murphy, senior vice president for international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said he was mystified by the position of the Service Employees International Union, which represents two million workers.
“None of these workers are in any way negatively affected by competition with imports,” said Mr. Murphy. “Yet S.E.I.U. will be there, showing solidarity.”
The across-the-board mobilization by labor unions reflected two pivotal developments since the late 1990s. First was the dawning realization that even public sector workers who appear to be insulated from global competition could ultimately feel its dislocating effects. Mr. Schaitberger said the firefighters had learned all too well that deindustrialization leads to urban decay and declining property values, which can increase demand for public services while it drains cities of the revenue to pay for them.
More recently, the public sector unions, under increasing assault from Republicans in Congress and in several big states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, found that the rapid decline of industrial unions had left them politically vulnerable as well.
It’s not like unity, solidarity with other unions in situations that don’t directly affect your members’ jobs, and alliance-building with other progressives is always that easy to replicate. But this is a clear way forward and I hope organized labor can build on it.
My former home of Georgetown, Texas is set to become the first city in the United States to be entirely powered by wind and solar energy. It’s remarkable how Texas has become the national leader on renewable energy. Of course, it’s not for some sort of political principle. Rather, Texas is gigantic with seemingly endless open, windy spaces in the western part of the state and the state has its own electricity grid to send that energy to the populated areas farther east. But Georgetown is a deeply Republican place. It’s not as crazy as, say, the Houston suburbs, but it’s quite conservative. Yet this is city that is pioneering the nation’s hopeful energy future.
Caroline Kennedy provides the worst possible argument for supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership: that her father supported free trade.
Serving as the U.S. ambassador to Japan has given me a chance to experience first-hand how our country is perceived in Asia. It has been a deeply moving experience to see how much the American dream still matters from 7,000 miles away.
The people of this region are eager for American involvement of all kinds—they cherish the free expression that we sometimes take for granted, their workers are seeking the kinds of hard-won protections the U.S. labor movement has gained, entrepreneurs are eager to innovate and young people are desperate to connect with us on a free and open internet that protects intellectual property and cybersecurity.
With assistance from the United States, Japan and other nations, developing countries throughout Asia are working to educate girls and young women and to protect their environments so future generations can reduce the risk of natural disasters and live sustainably.
This is a dynamic region that, right now, is at peace. It is also growing, presenting enormous economic opportunities for Americans. With a continued focus on President Barack Obama’s “rebalance to Asia,” we can keep it that way for generations to come.
A vitally important part of that strategy is the Trans Pacific Partnership. This ambitious, 12-nation trade agreement, now in the final stages of negotiation, has the potential to knit the United States and our allies into the world’s strongest, most prosperous partnership.
Yet, there are some who are reluctant to change the status quo and embrace the future. This is nothing new. But there is a proud Democratic free-trade tradition that we should not forget. For my father, President John F. Kennedy, expanding trade was integral to America’s prosperity and security. As he told Congress on January 11, 1962, when asking for a precursor to the same authority President Obama is requesting today, “Our decision could well affect the unity of the West, the course of the Cold War, and the economic growth of our Nation for a generation to come.”
It’s followed with a standard defense of the TPP and reminding us that Ted Kennedy also supported free trade, which is probably the worst policy position he consistently held.
And let’s think of the upshot of this. Should Democrats today then also support other Kennedy policies? Perhaps we should arm Cuban exiles to overthrow the Castro regime in a half-baked invasion plan. Or provided arms and advisers to Latin American nations to bust their unions in the name of development. Or move the nation significantly ahead toward a pointless war in southeast Asia. Or drag our feet on civil rights. Or this:
My dad, JFK, brought us to the brink of nuclear annihilation, and today's Democrats should do the same
— the beverage hunk (@pareene) June 12, 2015
Kennedy insults us with this argument. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, appealing to a mythical Democrat of the past is pathetic. Given that Caroline Kennedy is Obama’s ambassador to Japan, one has to wonder whether the administration didn’t ask her to openly appeal to the Kennedy myth to promote this specific policy. Never mind whether JFK would have actually supported the thing. I mean, our whole judicial system is based on trying to figure out whether James Madison would have approved of violent video games. But resorting to cheap nostalgia to a president mythologized all out of proportion to his actual accomplishments is really a ridiculous argument to make.
If there is a reason for Democrats to support the Trans Pacific Partnership, it sure isn’t because JFK’s daughter says he would have supported it too.
In conclusion, Caroline Kennedy deserved to be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in 2009 because of her lineage.
Sure you are getting tired of me promoting various Out of Sight related events. But I’d stop if every reader bought my book, as well as copies for their families and friends. In lieu of that, I was on Jay Ackroyd’s show Virtually Speaking last night for a full hour. In the last 5 minutes, we discussed what made LGM so awesome, i.e. a bunch of loud mouth writers and a great commenting community. So that can be an extra benefit for you to listen to me talk about outsourcing, the global race to the bottom, the capitalist war on the world’s workers, the decline of the American middle class, and other of my favorite uplifting topics.
I was also on the Rick Smith Show today discussing the defeat of Trade Adjustment Assistance in the House and what the victory means for the larger anti-Trans Pacific Partnership movement. So check that out too.
I’ve always been fascinated by Left Forum, the annual New York gathering of the far left on panels with the reputation for a) being hijacked by real odd ducks and b) consistently having more presenters than audience members given the ratio of panels to conference attendees is like 2:1 because no panels are rejected. Now I really do have to go just to witness this. Amber Frost:
At its worst, however, Left Forum is Comic Con for Marxists—Commie Con, if you will—and an absolute shitshow of nerds and social rejects. There are bitter old codgers that will harangue you about a thirty-some-years-old internecine grudge, and there are politically unsophisticated kids with Che Guevara t-shirts and Adbusters subscriptions. There are sanctimonious Trotskyists, ridiculous Maoist Third-Worldists, condescending horizontalist anarchists, smug social democrats and a glut of ardent adherents to similarly esoteric ideological traditions, all competing for the title of Most Insufferable Anti-Capitalist. Left Forum is notorious for grueling Q&A sessions, often with nary a “Q” to be found. People like to demonstrate how many books they’ve read (or worse, have written and self-published) in embarrassing displays of pretension and/or machismo, and cynicism is frequently substituted for insight.
But the grumps and the brats, the blowhards and the sectarians, the narcissists and the pessimists—all of these people are bearable to me, some even charming. No, the worst part of Left Forum is the crackpots, the paranoiacs, the hysterics, and all the other truly dysfunctional personalities attracted by the conference’s most infamous policy: no panel submission will be rejected.
That’s right: If you pay your registration fee and fill out the proper forms, you get a room and a table and a spot on the schedule. So in addition to all those experienced and intelligent rabble-rousers, Left Forum is a home for 9/11 Truthers, those who would save us from the terrors of “mandatory fluoridation,” and the generally batshit and/or pathologically anti-social. No one is required to observe their lectures, but they wander into other people’s and there is something truly dispiriting about not being able to distinguish self-identified radicals from the parodies of us imagined by the right wing.
In fairness, I’ve also heard very good things about it in that there are a lot of great people there to meet, even if you have to wade through the conspiracy theorists and the last 20 hardcore Stalinists in the United States.
But live tweeting this sounds like the reason I was put on this planet. Really, the worst part of all of this is the idea of not rejecting panels. My revolution rejects lots of things. Being inclusive is one thing. Having no standards is not a project I can support.
After the stunningly large defeat of Trade Adjustment Assistance in the House, a move promoted by Democrats to torpedo fast track of the TPP, what is next? Time to turn to a real reporter. Dayen:
Here are the options now in the House:
Pass TAA on a re-vote. Speaker John Boehner set this up for a vote next week, where they will try to persuade more Democrats and Republicans. Republican support topped out at 93 (votes started moving away from TAA once it was clear it wouldn’t pass), meaning that 124 Democrats would need to give their support. That’s a very tall order, especially now that it’s clearly the only thing standing between the President and his trade authority. Democratic groups, which demanded a no vote on TAA, will surely continue to whip the vote on their side.
Pass a separate standalone fast track bill. Just the threat of this, leaving Democrats with the President’s trade authority in place and no TAA, might be enough to get TAA passed. But it shouldn’t be. Just because 219 members voted for fast track on a meaningless vote today doesn’t mean they would be there on a standalone vote. Also, there is no way the Senate would concur on a fast-track trade bill without TAA: that would lose too many Democratic votes to pass. So this seems like an idle threat. Mitch McConnell could pass fast track with a promise to pass TAA later, but he’s already done that gambit once, getting fast track forward with a promise of a vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. That promise has been broken, and there’s no reason for Senators to believe McConnell again.
Make changes to TAA or fast track to get enough Democrats on board: This is what Pelosi was intimating, but it’s hard to see how that could plausibly occur. They would have to get any changes agreed to by the House and the Senate, which opens the process up to a lot of messiness. And even if all the issues with TAA were dispensed with – no paying for the assistance with Medicare cuts, no exemptions for public employees, etc. – the bill has now become the impediment to more corporate-written trade deals that set regulatory caps and facilitate job loss, and liberal Democrats know it. As Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, told the Huffington Post, “You can’t take the politics out of politics.”
Give Democrats something they want: Nancy Pelosi’s Dear Colleague letter makes this clear: “The prospects for passage (of fast track) will greatly increase with the passage of a robust highway bill.” This means that, if Republicans vote for more infrastructure spending, Pelosi would be likely to supply the votes for trade. But it’s not clear whether this is coming from Pelosi only, or if it would have buy-in from her caucus. She might be making a deal her caucus hasn’t empowered her to make. Plus, that would involve Republicans in the House and Senate agreeing to fund more infrastructure, and nobody knows where the money would come from.
I feel labor has been burned so many times by corporate Democrats that something bad will end up happening. But none of these options seem particularly likely. I imagine the full blitz from Obama will be on for the next week, but it’s already been turned on full blast and Democrats have overwhelmingly rejected it. Combined with Republicans who won’t vote for anything Obama wants and maybe there really isn’t a way forward. In any case, as Dayen states, this may well at least slow this bill down until the calendar turns and then we are in primary season. So maybe this was indeed a major victory.
The defenders of the Trans Pacific Partnership, likely the single worst thing Obama has ever done in his presidency given how hard he has fought for it, say that Trade Adjustment Assistance will at least help displaced workers recover and adjust to the new economy.
No it won’t, as this 2012 study demonstrates.
In the case of the four-decade-old U.S. Trade Adjustment Assistance Program (TAA), which helps workers whose jobs were axed because of increased imports, the answer is no, write associate professor Kara M. Reynolds and student John S. Palatucci, both of American University’s Department of Economics.
Reynolds and Palatucci compared the employment and salary trajectories of TAA beneficiaries with those of workers laid off in similar circumstances who weren’t eligible for the program. In 2007, approximately 150,000 Americans received a total of $850 million of TAA aid in the form of income support, health insurance, job search assistance, relocation compensation, and retraining. The 2009 stimulus expanded the program’s roster and benefits.
After controlling for geography and other factors, the authors found that TAA beneficiaries fared no better at getting new jobs than those who didn’t participate in the program. Furthermore, the TAA beneficiaries who did find jobs earned roughly 30 percent less than they did in their previous positions, while the other workers typically earned 18 percent less. (This disparity owes much to the fact that the TAA program targets workers who are most in need of help.)
But what’s really important here is giving American corporations extralegal rights and the ability to outsource even more American jobs overseas. Of course, labor in these nations are also urging the defeat of the TPP, but let’s not forget that the same American corporations who are so wonderful to us in this nation are providing jobs to the world’s poor like the beneficent overlords they are. So let’s just be grateful to them for all they do for the world.
Of all the conversations around the global race to the bottom, I think the one that bugs me the both is the portrayal of these low-wage, dangerous jobs as gifts American corporations are giving to these poor people around the world who would have nothing without our beneficent overlords. This is a paternalistic, colonialist argument that does not take actual workers and their desires into account. Rather, what we need to do in wealthy world nations is to support the workers’ movements of developing world nations so that they can live dignified lives in this system of global production.
This principle provides us another reason to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership as Vietnamese labor leaders urge Congress to reject it. They do so because they claim the TPP will destroy their attempts to fight for better lives.
The House is expected to vote Friday on a bill that would grant Obama so-called “fast-track” authority, which would prevent Congress from amending or filibustering any trade pact he negotiates. Obama cannot pass his trade agenda without fast-track powers. U.S. labor unions are concerned that the pact will drive down domestic wages by forcing American workers to compete with low wages and abusive practices abroad. Obama and Republican leaders say the pact will benefit all parties involved by boosting economic growth. The vast majority of Democrats in Congress are opposed to both TPP and the fast-track bill.
In their letter, labor leaders in Vietnam noted that many American companies profit from the exploitation of Vietnamese workers, singling out Nike, which operates factories in the country. In May, Obama made a pitch for the TPP deal from a Nike facility in Oregon. The labor leaders also sent lawmakers a separate study on Nike’s practices in Vietnam, detailing poverty wages paid to workers that forced them to borrow money to cover basic expenses. Nike was not immediately available for comment.
“In order for human and labor rights that are clearly spelled out in UN Conventions and in the Vietnamese Constitution to be truly respected in Vietnam, we believe that the U.S. Congress must use the opportunity of granting fast track authority as leverage to make immediate transformative changes so that the citizens of Vietnam can enjoy their human rights and basic freedoms,” the letter reads.
“Immediate and transformative changes.” Yes. They have a lot of specific demands that range from higher wages to the freeing of imprisoned leaders. I would also suggest the creation of labor standards the U.S. demands for any products coming from nations in the TPP with real enforcement mechanisms. It should also allow workers to bring suit against American companies for the violations of these standards, including if contractors are the actual employer. The workers of Vietnam do indeed deserve human rights and basic freedoms.