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Black Friday Strikes

[ 0 ] November 24, 2014 |

Why do Wal-Mart workers keep using one-day strikes as a protest tool? Largely because they don’t have any other tools that are likely to work:

One-day strikes don’t shut down the workplace like iconic strikes of yore did (and some workers, like Chicago teachers, still can). But if done right, they can accomplish some of what those walkouts did: Embarrass companies, estrange them from their customers, and engage fellow workers and the broader public by disrupting business as usual and creating a public spectacle. Instead of halting production, they anchor broader campaigns of political, media, legal, and consumer pressure aimed at getting management to budge. “It’s showing them that enough is enough,” says Venanzi Luna, one of about 60 employees who joined a Nov. 13 California walkout backed by OUR Walmart, the non-union workers group closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union. OUR Walmart insists its protests are paying off, pointing to a series of announcements by the retailer that address policies—from minimum-wage pay, to part-time scheduling, to accommodations for pregnant workers—that have been rallying cries for the campaign.

It’s entirely possible (I’d say probable) that this pressure is what is causing Wal-Mart to slightly move the dial toward a dignified life for its workers. But the end game is really hard to see for this movement. A wide-scale strike is really not possible without 100 times more active support for Wal-Mart workers than it presently has, in no small part because there are so many locations and workplaces. Even if everyone in one store went on strike, if the other nearby stores didn’t follow, Walmart would easily swat it away. Given this situation, the 1-day strike makes a lot of sense with continued pressure throughout the year that keeps the Wal-Mart workers’ situation in our consciousness and hopefully leads to some sort of eventual larger transformation of workers’ lives. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt when Wal-Mart embarrasses itself.

In other words, these actions are indicative of both the problems American workers face in 2014 and the potential organizing actions to alleviate those problems.

Profiles in Courage

[ 5 ] November 24, 2014 |

Man of principle Andrew Cuomo refuses to say that human-caused climate change exists, wants to avoid “political debate” on the issue.

How to Embarrass Yourself as a University Administration

[ 73 ] November 22, 2014 |

Graduate students at the University of Oregon are threatening to strike over the university not giving their demand of paid family leave. You can read the details of the bargaining in quite a bit of detail here. It is nearing the end of the quarter at UO, so the graduate students have as much power as they are going to have because all the grading needs to get done. So how did the university administration respond? Pretty much in the most embarrassing way possible, sending deans and directors this leaked memo concerning what to do if they had to give the finals without their TAs.

1. Consider whether the final exam can be reformatted so that it can be graded easily (e.g., Scantron or multiple-choice). Please note that the reformatted final exams should have an equal level of rigor as originally planned.

2. To provide proctor coverage for exams, please use the teaching function strategies above.

3. Provide students with the following options:

a. Forgo the final and take the grade they had going into the final

b. Take the final, but receive an “X” (missing grade) until such time that the finals can be graded

Give everyone Scantron exams! Now that’s education. Let’s not even get into the issue that students forced to take multiple choice exams do significantly worse because there is no partial credit (which is why it is basically impossible to fail a history course unless you don’t turn assignments in or never show up). In fact, let’s just forget about education entirely. Give the students their current grade without a final! Hire some scabs to serve as TAs! Make a mockery of your entire pedagogy!

Really, shouldn’t the University of Oregon just allow students to choose their own grade? That’s only fair way to deal with a labor conflict.

Another Example of the Reconquista Obama Has Instigated

[ 26 ] November 22, 2014 |

Here’s another example of the kind of horrible terrorist Obama is legalizing through the greatest oppression of whites known in human history: giving undocumented people the chance to live in this nation without fear of deportation:

I’m Odilia Chavez, a 40-year-old migrant farm worker based in Madera, California, the heart of the fertile Central Valley. I’m also a single mother of three: my 20-year-old eldest son came and joined me in 2004, crossing with a coyote. My son is now at the university, studying political science. The younger two were born here — American citizens.

I grew up in Santiago Yosondua, Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. I went to school through third grade, my dad was killed when I was 11, and we didn’t even have enough food to eat. So I went off to work at 12 in Mexico City as a live-in maid for a Spanish family. I’d go back each year to Oaxaca to visit my mom, and the migrants who’d come back from the United States would buy fancy cars and nice houses, while my mom still slept on a mat on the floor in our hut. A coyote told me he could take me to the United States for $1,800. So I went north in 1999, leaving my four-year-old son behind with my mother. I was 26.

In a typical year, I prune grapevines starting in April, and pick cherries around Madera in May. I travel to Oregon in June to pick strawberries, blueberries and blackberries on a farm owned by Russians. I take my 14-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son with me while they’re on their summer break. They play with the other kids, and bring me water and food in the field. We’ll live in a boarding house with 25 rooms for some 100 people, and everyone lines up to use the bathrooms. My kids and I share a room for $270 a month.

You come home really tired. I’ll come home, take a shower, put lotion on my hot feet, and be ready for the next day. I’m usually in bed by 9:00 to get up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning to make and pack some tacos for the day. Also, undocumented workers don’t have any medical insurance — so the majority of us just buy over-the-counter pills for any problems. Luckily, I haven’t had many health issues yet.

Some contractors think they can abuse you because you’re undocumented. One time, a contractor who was an American citizen with Mexican parents called me a no-good illegal, and claimed he was going to call immigration on me. I said, “Send ‘em over, I’ll be waiting!” I left that job.

We all want immigration reform. First, I’d get a driver’s license, social security, and go see my mom in Mexico. (The last time I went was in 2008, and I had to cross the dessert again with a coyote to get back here — but it was the only option.) I would still work in the fields. I don’t know how to do anything else. A lot of workers haven’t gotten very far in school, and they can’t use a computer. What job are they going to do? We can’t get a better job. They were farmworkers in Mexico and we’re going to die as farmworkers. I do have a lot of pride in my work, though. It can be fun. We joke around.

My God! How can this nation survive with someone like Odilia Chavez just wandering around picking our crops without watching out for immigration officers!

Incidentally, I actually know Santiago Yosondua, Oaxaca very well. I’ve been to that town’s annual fiesta. It is a very remote town (like really bloody remote) way up in the mountains. It’s beautiful and poor. The surrounding area is about to be destroyed by mining companies. There is some resistance beginning there against this and I may be highlighting this going forward. As happens so often in these situations, there are town members who support the mine for jobs and others who say the few low-paying short-term jobs won’t be worth the long-term impact. It’s complex. But there certainly aren’t many jobs and that’s why people leave it to go work in the fields of the United States.

Shorter Rand Paul: “Obama, Like FDR, Oppresses Minorities”

[ 45 ] November 22, 2014 |

The Only Progressive Alternative in 2016 points out how Democratic presidents oppress minorities. Just like FDR threw all the Japanese-Americans into internment camps, Obama is oppressing the white minority by allowing undocumented immigrants to go to school without fear their parents will be locked up when they return home from 5th grade or allowing immigrant business owners to apply for loans to fund their enterprises. The parallel is clear.

The Impact of the Obama Immigration Action

[ 79 ] November 21, 2014 |

Obama’s executive order on deporting immigrants, while unfortunately temporary, makes the lives of people better. People such as Clara Cortes:

I came here illegally because there were few, if any, economic opportunities in my native Mexico. I was a lawyer and a single parent who could not afford to pay for my daughter’s schooling and cover the medicines for a sick brother with the $150 a week I earned.

I have been in the United States since 1999, and for nearly 15 years I have worked cleaning houses. It takes me 21/2 hours to get to work in Brooklyn from my home in Babylon Town. The commute is physically draining, but I don’t have a choice. I can’t work legally in the United States despite my education and legal skills.

My two daughters, my husband and I awaken every day with the fear that I will be deported. My husband and youngest daughter are U.S. citizens — which is why I should be eligible for legalized status under the president’s order. My oldest daughter benefited from the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered a temporary reprieve from deportations.

But I remain illegal in this country and, as my 7-year-old daughter’s principal caretaker, I’ve agonized about what would happen to her if I were sent back to Mexico. The fear immigrants like me live under is suffocating, and politicians who have vilified families like mine fail to understand our plight.

When I started working, my wages were often stolen by employers and I was sexually harassed. But I never reported any of it because I dreaded my immigration status would be used against me. I had no sense of security. I have seen immigration officials working on Long Island, and I felt helpless knowing that I could be detained and deported at any time.

Now Cortes can feel a little more secure, at least until a Republican is elected president. Hopefully, Obama’s ruling, despite the racism of the responses to it by many leading Republicans, lays the groundwork for more permanent action. I feel that recriminalizing these people is going to be harder than decriminalizing them. At least I hope so. My only criticism of Obama here is that he didn’t do this years ago. Certainly waiting until after the 2014 midterms in hopes that it wouldn’t contribute to the losses of Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, and Kay Hagan proved futile.

Native Americans on Route 66

[ 92 ] November 21, 2014 |

I admit I’ve always found the fascination with Route 66 a bit perplexing, since it’s really just another road that, outside of New Mexico, does not really go through our most fascinating landscape. Even in New Mexico, that’s a less than compelling road as far as touring goes than many other highways. But whatever, people like it. And so I am glad to see the many Native American tribes who live along the highway teaming up with the National Park Service to create a guidebook for travelers highlighting Native American life and tourism possibilities along the route. Route 66 comes out of a whitened version of America represented by John Steinbeck, post-war popular music, and television, all of which largely erased the indigenous, as well as Mexican-American, presence out of a mythical West the road represented. This is a welcome correction.

Race War!

[ 168 ] November 20, 2014 |

For a sizable faction of Republicans with significant electoral support, Obama’s immigration executive order is tantamount to race war. And they are ready take up the fight to protect the white race. We talked about Tom Coburn earlier today. There’s also Alabama congressman Mo Brooks. And then, of course, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach:

“The long term strategy of, first of all, replacing American voters with illegal aliens, recently legalized, who then become U.S. citizens,” Kobach said. “There is still a decided bias in favor of bigger government not smaller government. So maybe this strategy of replacing American voters with newly legalized aliens, if you look at it through an ethnic lens, … you’ve got a locked in vote for socialism.”

Koback also responded to a caller who was concerned about ethnic cleansing, which the caller claimed was a threat from immigrant and Hispanic rights groups.

“What happens, if you know your history, when one culture or one race or one religion overwhelms another culture or race?” the caller asked. “When one race or culture overwhelms another culture, they run them out or they kill them.”

Kobach then responded with his take.

“What protects us in America from any kind of ethnic cleansing is the rule of law, of course,” Kobach said. “And the rule of law used to be unassailable, used to be taken for granted in America. And now, of course, we have a President who disregards the law when it suits his interests. And, so, you know, while I normally would answer that by saying, ‘Steve, of course we have the rule of law, that could never happen in America,’ I wonder what could happen. I still don’t think it’s going to happen in America, but I have to admit, that things are, things are strange and they’re happening.”

For these people, the reconquista is a real thing and it must be fought, possibly with violence. That the rest of the United States thinks these people are loons doesn’t really matter, especially if the followers of these high ranking politicians start acting on this incendiary rhetoric.

Commonsense Bipartisan Legislation

[ 68 ] November 20, 2014 |

Since we all know that a divided government is the answer to the problems of this nation, I present you the kind of commonsense bipartisan leadership that Americans are demanding. Rep. Steve Stockman:

Work on Thanksgiving or Lose Your Job

[ 91 ] November 20, 2014 |

K-Mart is forcing its employees to work on Thanksgiving or be fired:

Jillian Fisher, who started a petition on Coworker.org asking Kmart to give her mother and other employees the flexibility to take the holiday off, surveyed 56 self-identified employees from more than 13 states. Of those, just three said they had the option to ask to take the holiday off. In a press release from the petition organizer, one employee said human resources has told them, “if you do not come to work on Thanksgiving, you will automatically be fired… I made the request to work a split shift on Thanksgiving and was denied.” Another said, “Our manager stated at a staff meeting: ‘Everyone must work Thanksgiving and Black Friday. No time off.’” At one location, an employee says signs have been posted in the break room saying workers can’t request time off on Thanksgiving or Black Friday and that everyone has to put in at least some time on both, while at another signs have been posted saying no one can request time off between November 15 and January 1.

“I am a lead at a Kmart and it is mandatory for me to work on Thanksgiving,” another employee said. “If I were to call out I would be terminated, and requesting off is not allowed.”

I’ll leave the fact that people who go shopping at a department store on Thanksgiving have some priority issues that need addressing and just state it is flat out immoral to force non-emergency employees to labor on Thanksgiving. And K-Mart and other department stores do not have emergency employees. But these stores do not treat workers with respect to begin with. This is the kind of story where public pressure can really make a difference. Last year there was a lot of negative attention paid to this issue. This year, many department stores have announced they are giving everyone the day off and closing. K-Mart is not one of those but embarrassing it might force a change.

Republicans Threaten Violence

[ 41 ] November 20, 2014 |

I guess I’m not sure the last time senators openly threatened violent revolution against a presidential policy. Maybe during the civil rights movement. Certainly upon the election of Lincoln. And they are doing it again. Or at least the ever classy Tom Coburn:

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” Coburn said in an interview with USA Today. “You’re going to see —hopefully not— but you could see instances of anarchy…. You could see violence.”

Nice. I wonder if this is the kind of bipartisanship the Denver Post foresaw if the Republicans took control of the Senate.

And certainly extremists rhetoric taking place before the Civil War, during the civil rights movement, and over immigration have nothing in common. Nothing at all.

Firestone in Liberia

[ 37 ] November 20, 2014 |

If you haven’t read the Pro Publica report on Firestone funded Charles Taylor’s extraordinarily violent takeover of Liberia in 1992, do so.

Firestone served as a source of food, fuel, trucks and cash used by Taylor’s ragtag rebel army, according to interviews, internal corporate documents and declassified diplomatic cables.

The company signed a deal in 1992 to pay taxes to Taylor’s rebel government. Over the next year, the company doled out more than $2.3 million in cash, checks and food to Taylor, according to an accounting in court files. Between 1990 and 1993, the company invested $35.3 million in the plantation.

In return, Taylor’s forces provided security to the plantation that allowed Firestone to produce rubber and safeguard its assets. Taylor’s rebel government offered lower export taxes that gave the company a financial break on rubber shipments.

For Taylor, the relationship with Firestone was about more than money. It helped provide him with the political capital and recognition he needed as he sought to establish his credentials as Liberia’s future leader.

“We needed Firestone to give us international legitimacy,” said John Toussaint “J.T.” Richardson, a U.S.-trained architect who became one of Taylor’s top advisers. “We needed them for credibility.”

While Firestone used the plantation for the business of rubber, Taylor used it for the business of war. Taylor turned storage centers and factories on Firestone’s sprawling rubber farm into depots for weapons and ammunition. He housed himself and his top ministers in Firestone homes. He also used communications equipment on the plantation to broadcast messages to his supporters, propaganda to the masses and instructions to his troops.

Secret U.S. diplomatic cables from the time captured Taylor’s gratitude to Firestone. Firestone’s plantation “had been the lifeblood” of the territory in Liberia that he controlled, Taylor told one Firestone executive, according to a State Department cable. Taylor later said in sworn testimony that Firestone’s resources had been the “most significant” source of foreign exchange in the early years of his revolt.

Firestone is claiming it had no choice, etc.

Today, Firestone maintains that at the time it struck its deal with Taylor, the guerrilla leader had “no well-established record” of human right violations. It said that many other companies and world leaders had treated Taylor as a legitimate political figure. Other companies operating in Liberia at the time chose to leave. But some stayed on through the violence.

“Does Firestone believe it did the right thing? Yes,” Firestone said of its decisions in Liberia. “Do we, along with former U.S. presidents, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations and many leaders around the world who worked with Charles Taylor regret the war criminal he became? Yes.”

No “well-established record.” Gotcha. And I’m not downplaying the cost of doing business in an unstable country and the compromises that companies make. But the rubber industry has long contributed to that instability through low wages, bad working conditions, and paying off dictators and strongmen to control the workforce and ensure its investments. Firestone has significantly exploited Liberia going back to the 1920s. So while there probably wasn’t much American employees of Firestone on the ground in Liberia could do to stop the killing, the corporation itself holds plenty of blame.

This very long story is remarkable, but not so much an aberration as one might think. Yes, Charles Taylor was extraordinarily awful, even for the region. Yes, it’s rare to get actual documents so clearly showing how a single U.S. company openly backed a psychopath with such force and resources. But on a lesser level, this is just the cost of doing business for many companies. Look at the apparel industry in Vietnam or Bangladesh or Cambodia. These companies back leaders like Hun Sen in Cambodia that kill labor organizers all the time. Chinese repression of dissent is part of the appeal. So this report is far more useful is we look at it as a tremendously well-documented example of a systemic problem rather than an isolated incident of one company and one ruler working together.

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