Category: Class and Class Struggle Trade Unionism

Solidarity with MUNACA’s members and their just demands

By admin, October 11, 2011 1:39 pm

252 Bloor Street West, Room 8-104

Toronto, ON M5S 1V6

(416) 978-2403; cupe3907@gmail.com

September 29, 2011

Kevin Whittaker, President

McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association

L’ Association Accreditee du Personnel Non Enseignant de l’Universite McGill

3483 Peel Street

Montreal, QC

H3A 1W7

Re: Solidarity with MUNACA’s members and their just demands

Dear Brother Kevin:

The members of CUPE Local 3907 at the University of Toronto stand in solidarity with the members of McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA) and their strike action. Your strike to achieve internal and external equity with other similarly-placed workers in your workplace as well as with employees in other postsecondary educational institutions in Montreal is both inspiring and encouraging to our local.

In going out on strike, MUNACA is valiantly attempting to bring the Employer’s behavior in line with its expressed principles. In the terms of reference of the Principal’s Task Force on Diversity, Excellence and Community Engagement, the Employer asserts, “We will evaluate our achievement regularly and rigorously, both against our own previous performance and against that of our peers.” The practice of evaluating its operation against that of other comparator organizations is a long established way of ensuring that McGill University meets or exceeds the best practices in the university sector.

Therefore, the Employer should not treat your demands for a wage scale, substantive involvement in decisions about your members’ pension plan and workplace benefits, which are already enjoyed by workers in comparable organizations, as unreasonable and unprecedented. Internal and external equity has long been used in industrial relations to determine the terms and conditions of employment for workers and even administrators in higher education institutions.

The Principal’s Task Force highlights diversity of staff or employment equity as a major concern. If the Employer has concerns about seniority considerations frustrating the need to remove structural racist and other discriminatory barriers in fairly representing equity-seekers throughout the job classifications system, it should see MUNACA as partner and not a liability to this necessary goal. Any union that is committed to the principle of an “Injury to one is an injury to all” is going to work to ensure that equity-seekers are fairly and rapidly represented in all job categories.

CUPE Local 3907 applauds the determination of your members in standing up for fairness and equity in the workplace. Please rest assured that our members are solidly behind your strike action. A cheque is attached to this letter and it represents a donation from CUPE Local 3907 to MUNACA’s strike fund.

In solidarity,

Cristina Guerrero, Chair External                                    Yongfang Jia, Chair Internal

Cc: Dr. Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, McGill University

Race, Oppositional Politics, and the Challenges of Post-9/11 Mass Movement-Building Spaces

By admin, September 16, 2011 2:03 pm

Race, Oppositional Politics, and the Challenges of Post-9/11 Mass Movement-Building Spaces

Ajamu Nangwaya

http://www.anarchist-developments.org/index.php/adcs/article/view/44

Abstract

In the absence of a critical race analysis that is aimed at informing and shaping political practice in the United States, the prospect for revolutionary renewal and movement building will not be able to reach its full potential in the post-9/11 period and beyond. This paper examines the race-informed developments of the 9/11 attacks, the racial politics of reparations, the spring 2006 immigrant rights protests, and the February/March 2011 protest action in Madison, Wisconsin, for illustration. In addition, it interrogates the issues of race and racism within the labour movement and the wider American society, and the manner in which they are deployed to prevent the emergence of an anti-oppression collective consciousness and a broad-based political movement.

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Migrant workers demand better conditions on community reality tour

By admin, September 8, 2011 7:02 pm

http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3285720

By KARENA WALTER Standard Staff

Posted 3 days ago

The dozens of migrant workers who rallied in Niagara this weekend took an enormous risk in doing so, organizers of a “solidarity caravan” said Sunday.

Many workers fear retribution or even deportation if their employers discover they have been rallying for better conditions, members of Justice for Migrant Workers said.

“It’s a tremendous risk they’re taking,” said organizer Chris Ramsaroop.

About 100 southwestern Ontario migrant workers from Guatemala, Jamaica, the Philippines and Thailand, among other countries, gathered at the British Methodist Episcopal Church on Geneva St. in St. Catharines on Sunday.

They are among thousands of workers who come to Canada to fill labour shortages through Seasonal Agricultural Worker and Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.

The church was the first stop on a tour for the group whose members came on buses from as far away as Leamington and Tillsonburg.

“You’re all here to demand justice and call for rights in Canada,” Ramsaroop said to applause outside the church. “Congratulations for the risk you’re taking to stand up for your rights.”

The “solidarity caravan” is making stops along the Underground Railroad to raise questions about whether those communities still represent freedom for all or oppression for migrant workers.

Ramsaroop said some workers are fearful of rallying in their workplace communities, but will take action elsewhere.

One of those workers who travelled from Tillsonburg said there’s no way to refuse unsafe work with chemicals for fear of being sent home.

“If you deny work, you can be penalized and lose your job,” he said.

And losing his job would mean being sent back to Trinidad, where the pay is less.

He has spent eight months every year for the last 13 years working in Canada without his family for that paycheque.

He said he doesn’t want the programs shut down, but added he shouldn’t have to live in a home with rats or have insufficient medical care.

Canadians, he said, have no idea what takes place behind the scenes.

“You get these nice fruits, farming helps develop the country, but we’d like to be treated like human beings,” he said.

Tzazna Miranda, an organizer from Justice for Migrant Workers, said health and safety is a big issue with workers using pesticides and machinery without proper training. Gender and racial discrimination, labour laws and the ease with which someone can be deported are also concerns.

“The problem is there is very little enforcement. It doesn’t matter what the law is if nothing’s enforcing it,” Miranda said.

“We don’t want to close the program, but we want it to properly work.”

Filipino Gina Bahiwal, an organizer and agricultural packer in Leamington, said she hoped the caravan would raise awareness and push the government to protect migrant workers from abuses.

She said she had to find a new employer or go home after she was accused of organizing a union.

“For three years I am here,” she said. “I see there is no protection for migrant workers and there is injustices.”

Later on Sunday, the caravan made stops in Virgil and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

kwalter@stcatharinesstandard.ca

Migrant workers rallying for their rights

By admin, September 8, 2011 1:42 pm
Ajamu Nangway, a PhD student in adult education at the University of Toronto, handed out pamphlets along Queen Street to raise awareness about issues migrant workers face each summer when they come to work in Canada.
Click  here to find out more!

Migrant workers rallying for their rights

By Sarah Ferguson

Posted 19 hours ago

http://www.niagaraadvance.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3288847

While many residents spent their Labour Day weekend enjoying the last bit of summer, migrant works marched down Queen Street on Sunday for better wages and rights.

About 100 farm workers and supporters took part in the caravan, says Chris Ramsaroop, organizer of Justicia for Migrant Workers.

It was one of three stops which included St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.

The organization promotes the rights of farm workers in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SWAP) and the Low Skilled Workers Program.

There are many migrant workers here in NOTL which are a part of SWAP, says Ramsaroop.

It is a program which responds to the labour shortage in the Canadian agricultural industry.

Migrant workers come from places such as Jamaica, Mexico or the Carribean and they can work from four to eight months in Canada, says Ramsaroop.

The organizer says the rallies are an attempt to education people about the lack of rights, the possibility of deportation if workers speak out and fees workers have to pay to recruiters just to work in Canada.

He says both the SWAP and the LSWP face the same issues.

Ramsaroop says people on the street became receptive to what the rally was about and were willing to listen when they gave away pears, peaches and vegetables which the migrant workers help to grow and harvest.

“It’s helping to break the invisibility of migrant workers.”

Pilgrimage to Freedom Caravan 2011

By admin, August 29, 2011 12:57 pm

Pilgrimage to Freedom Caravan 2011

Last year, over 150 migrant workers and their allies made history by marching over fifty kilometres, an equivalent of 12 hours, from Leamington to Windsor, Ontario demanding justice, respect and dignity for the hundreds of thousands employed under the auspices of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs. After years of harassment, intimidation and exploitation, migrant workers organized and took to the streets to stand up to these abuses.

The march called the ‘Pilgrimage to Freedom: Breaking the Chains of Indentureship’ ended in Windsor at the Tower of Freedom that is dedicated to those who travelled the underground railroad. The monument was chosen as the ending point to reflect on the connections of past and the present to slavery, indentureship and statelessness that renders racialized peoples as non-citizens. Over the last year, thousands of people have heard the testimonies and the stories that led to organizing the march. Permanent residency and citizenship status, an end to repatriations and deportations, labour law reform, equal access to social entitlements and an end to the coercive role of recruiters and contractors has inspired many others about the realities faced by migrant workers in Canada.

Migrant workers and members of Justicia for Migrant Workers have continued to organize in rural Ontario and are once again demanding that the chains of indentureship in Canada must be broken. This year the pilgrimage continues as a form of a caravan across rural Ontario.

J4MW is requesting the support of community, religious, labour and allied organizations to join us for this year’s action. Migrant workers and their allies will be calling community meetings, and organizing meetings across south western Ontario. This year’s actions will take place across several communities.  If you are interested in further information feel free to contact Justicia for Migrant Workers. Tentative dates for stops on the caravan include

September 4, 2011
Niagara on the Lake, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls
For more details on the Niagara Action click here

September 25, 2011
Windsor, Leamington, Chatham and Dresden

October 2, 2011
Simcoe – Brantford – Hamilton – Toronto

Updates will be forthcoming in the upcoming weeks describing greater details the actions and what support we are asking for this event. We are seeking financial and in kind support but mostly your presence during these dates and communities.

Background Information

More than 20, 000 migrant farm workers from Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, and the Caribbean arrive in Canada to work in our fields, orchards and greenhouses every year. Many workers pay thousands of dollars in fees to recruiters to be able to work in Canada, sometimes for jobs that do not even exist.   Once they arrive, many workers face dangerous working conditions, sub-standard housing and employment standards and human rights violations. As farm workers and migrants, they have little recourse to assert their human and labour rights and are constantly faced with the threat of deportation if they voice their concerns.

Justicia for Migrant Workers is an award winning volunteer-run collective that strives to promote the rights of migrant farm workers by creating spaces for workers to lead their own movement and articulate their own voices in a country that makes renders them invisible.

Justice for Migrant Workers!
Got food? Bought local? Thank a migrant farm worker!

Background on the Pilgrimage:
Call out for last year’s march
Message of solidarity from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsC1Bt-eSJg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JB5fb3cyQyw

Photos:
Flickr
Labour Start’s International Photo of the Year, Pilgrimage Photo Won!
Tumblr Multimedia snapshots

Print:
Toronto Star
Windsor Star

Stop the Cuts Network in the City of Toronto

By admin, August 25, 2011 2:20 pm

Dear CUPE 3907 Members,

Invitation to participate in Mass Meeting to Stop Ford’s Cuts, Sep 10, 1pm, Dufferin Grove Park.

My name is Lindsay, and I am writing on behalf of the Toronto Stop the Cuts Network, a grassroots alliance of community groups, service providers and Toronto residents that are organizing to stop cuts to public services by the Ford regime. Like you, we live and work in Toronto, delivering and accessing city services. For many of us libraries, community centers, employment assistance and infrastructure are essential and cuts to them would mean a dramatic change in the quality of our lives.

Like you, we’ve spent the last few months, watching Ford build a massive fear mongering campaign. Everything it seems is under threat. We’ve filled out surveys, gone to deputations, organized meetings, marches and rallies – yet Ford and his cronies show no sign of backing down.

We also know that some cuts have already happened – there are user fees in community centers, the Jarvis bike lane was chopped off, and many childcare spots have already disappeared. We also know that many in the city, undocumented people, racialized communities, poor people, those without ID are already shut out of many public services.

We know that the Executive Committee of City Hall is meeting on Sep 19, and the City voting on cuts, user fees, and anti-union measures on September 26 and 27.

Days before this, a number of groups and people in the city are calling for a Mass Meeting to Stop Ford Cuts. Over 500 people have confirmed on Facebook, and many Unions and Community organizations including city workers and health organizations have confirmed their participation. This meeting is to do three things:

1. Collect the different demands, hopes and aspirations of Torontonians to develop a concise set of people’s priorities to deliver to City Hall.

2. Develop a plan of action for September 26 and 27 if these priorities are not adequately reflected in the Executive Council discussions on September 19.

3. Strengthen relationships between community groups, service providers, labour organizations and Toronto residents to resist cuts by any level of government, to work to expand services for all people, and to end the handouts to cops and corporations.

Unions, and the labour movement, have been part of many struggles in this city – and it would be imperative for your organization to attend the meeting on September 10. We are writing today to see if you could advertise the event on facebook, on twitter and on your list-servs. Could you email or call all your members and ask them to attend? Would you be interested in developing a draft people’s declaration prior to September 10 with us?

At a time when politicians across the world seem only interested in ensuring that the rich get richer, while women, disabled people, poor, working class and migrant communities are shut out – we need to reclaim democracy for ourselves. We need to talk to each other, develop our own plans, and our own agendas, and then act on them. I really hope that you can support the September 10 meeting and will call you in the next few days to discuss this person. In the meantime, do email or call with questions, ideas or concerns.

In solidarity,

Lindsay Hart

Toronto Stop the Cuts Network

For more information or to endorse this meeting, please contact tostopthecuts@gmail.com.

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=104686749631378

Labour Chasing Fool’s Gold: Austerity and class struggle

By admin, December 6, 2010 2:12 pm

by Ajamu Nangwaya – BASICS Issue #23 (Nov / Dec 2010)

http://basicsnews.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4463:labour-chasing-fools-gold&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=69


“Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

– Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

The above quotation could have been referring to the affection for Keynesian economics by the bureaucrats in Ontario’s trade unions (organized labour).

Keynesianism is a fiscal policy approach that believes the state’s management of the overall injection of spending into the economy by government, businesses and consumers is critical to achieving full employment and economic prosperity.

The government is seen as the key player in encouraging the required level of “aggregate demand.” It does so through its own spending and power over taxation, interest rate and the money supply.

Marx also said that “the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

This quote captures the burden of organized labour’s post-war engagement with Keynesian economics and the way that it tries to resurrect it like old Lazarus, in the face of the current crisis in capitalism.

The brain trust at CUPE Ontario has been trumpeting an alternative economic response to the wage freeze proposal of the McGuinty Liberals.

I, for one, was looking for a transformative document that would be guided by a working-class informed position on political economy and the class struggle.

But what we got was the demand management trope that is the core of John Maynard Keynes’s approach to stabilizing the inherent boom and bust features of capitalism’s business cycle. Keynes’ book, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was written as a manual for maintaining the vibrancy of capitalism.

Why is it that so many labour leaders have this compulsive and inexplicable attachment to Keynesianism?

These used-to-be advocates of the working-class should remember that the post-war welfare state was a strategic bargain between organized labour, the state and the capitalist class in the West to weaken the appeal of socialism or radicalism to the working-class.

Another reason for the unholy alliance of these partners in crime was to support anti-communism at home and abroad as well as allegiance to imperialist policies in the Third World.
The state used its spending and taxation powers and control over the interest rate to manage aggregate demand in the economy. These policy tools facilitated the provision of social programmes as a means to make capitalist political economy legitimate.

However, by the mid-1970s, the capitalist class and the state were sufficiently confident that they had hegemony over the working-class and had contained the threat of socialism.
So they turned their backs on the welfare state deal with organized labour, and thus began the era of neoliberalism.

Looking back at the relentless attack of the elite on workers since the 1970s gives us an insight into the current proposed two-year wage-freeze attack on over 1 million public sector workers by the Ontario Liberals.

Many labour unions’ leaderships are hesitant to define the government’s proposed wage-freeze as part of the class struggle.

This political timidity was evident in CUPE Ontario’s presentation to Liberal government’s functionaries on August 30, 2010. It included colourful graphs and Keynesian arguments for investment in the public sector. CUPE Ontario offered Keynesian advice to a government that just recently borrowed from Keynes’ demand management playbook to prevent an economic collapse of the provincial economy.

It should have been clear to this labour organization that the Liberals didn’t need to be convinced that pumping money into the provincial economy during the Great Recession was a way to maintain an economic environment that was safe for business and maintain the legitimacy of the system in the eyes of the majority.

The preceding state of affairs strengthens our case that the quest to pick over $1.5 billion from the pockets of public sector workers is not about fighting the deficit.
It is about the class struggle and taking the fight to those “uppity” little workers who want a liveable wage.

Premier McGuinty and his group of neoliberal “bandits” must excuse us for not reading the scouting report, which specifies that only a dog-eat-dog economic nightmare befits today’s working-class.

Our bad, ‘Premier Dad’!

CUPE Ontario’s leadership was dismayed that in spite of taking advantage of the “unprecedented opportunity to share our ideas, in detail, with representatives of many government ministries…. discussions did not result in any substantive response from the government to our proposals about better ways to improve and protect public services.”

It may not have dawned on the brain trust of that labour organization that the Ontario Liberals were quite familiar with the required mix of government spending, taxation and interest rate and money supply manipulation to move the economy in the desired direction.

Evidence of how conventional CUPE Ontario’s alternative plan was may be gleaned from the manner in which its recommendation on the taxing certain levels of income dovetails with the anti-taxation message of the right.

In the presentation to the emergency meeting of its affiliated locals in August 2010, CUPE Ontario’s leadership pandered to the political right’s aversion to the taxation of income with the following statement: “High income earner taxes: new top bracket for $130K plus.”

Based on 2004 tax data, only 5 per cent of Canadians earned $89,000 and above so why is CUPE Ontario proposing such a high tax threshold? Could it be that labour leaders and some workers are now earning over $100,000 and are just interested in having others pay any tax increase?

It may not be clear to some labour organizations that a decent social wage through access to universal social programmes is very much dependent on taxation.
An anti-taxation mindset is not in the best interest of the working-class whose access to generous levels of unemployment benefits, public transportation, publicly-funded and operated childcare facilities, public education, a public pension plan and a whole host of public services is only possible when businesses and the general citizenry contribute to the tax base.

Our fight as workers and residents of Ontario against the wage-freeze, attacks on the special diet programme, rollback of spending on Metrolinx transportation programme and billions of dollars in tax cut to the business sector will not be won through Keynesian-inspired fancy power-point presentations to the Ontario Liberals.

It will be won through consistent economic and political education (from a working-class perspective) of public sectors workers and the broader working-class in this province.

It will be won through abandoning the bread-and-butter trade unionism that saw most of Ontario’s public sector unions obsessively focused on the proposed wage-freeze and not the array of policy proposals in the March 2010 budget that assaulted the economic interest of the working-class.

It will be won by working in principled alliances with social movement groups to mobilize and self-organize the working-class to challenge the government in the streets and all available political spaces.

Sucking up to the Ontario Liberals and trying to appear reasonable will not win the struggle for economic justice.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade union activist, member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and former vice-president of CUPE Ontario.

Rethinking the role of race in the modern Tea Party Movement

By admin, November 7, 2010 11:30 am

By Khalil Tian Shahyd

http://www.johntedwards.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/tea-party-photos-rp.jpg

Tea Party’s Kool Aid drinkers at a rally

The rapid rise of the Tea Party Movement has fueled ongoing debate about the potential influence of the movement on American public policy and politics. The movement’s appeal and almost exclusive attraction to working class white voters has also caused many to question the role that race has played in its emergence and in sustaining it’s anger. However much of the discussion on the role of race in the TPM tends to get lost in two perspectives; 1.) to outright deny or downplay the influence of race in the movement’s political goals altogether; which is made possible by the charges of the second perspective that, 2.)  limits itself to a catalogue list of racist actions, political slogans and associations that can be charged against individuals, Tea Party leaders and organizations[i].

Missing from the discussion is a real analysis of the role that race has in framing our national political economic and historical narrative that can explain why public policies to limit the redistributive functions of government are the focus of conservative political groups in the form of “smaller government” advocacy. Indeed, the modern Tea Party can be said to have gotten its initial inspiration from CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s outburst on the floor of the Chicago stock exchange in which he blamed the federal government for giving subsidies to “subprime” mortgage holders who “were making bad economic decisions”[ii]. Santelli claimed that he would organize a Chicago Tea Party against President Obama’s plans to provide support to homeowners facing foreclosure. Of course, “subprime” became quickly coded by race and has been associated almost completely with homeowners of color whose experiences with foreclosure and mortgage debt had to be made somehow different and distinct from the experience of “mainstream” white American households who were morally superior and thus more deserving public sympathy.

The resulting global economic downturn has only prolonged the anxiety even as the crisis spread around the world. Yet, while the U.S. is generally recognized as the model for liberal capitalism, it is social democratic Europe; who have recently gone through their own political wave of right wing ascendency partly due to demographic shifts under increasing immigration from former colonies; where the most severe fiscal austerity packages are being proposed. Still, the U.S. pushes forward with stimulus packages to spur job growth and diplomatic attempts to convince European governments to increase their own consumptive spending. The responses of the working class majorities among the U.S. and Europe are equally divergent, as the European working classes have taken to mass action against austerity measures in countries such as Greece and now France.

In the U.S. the greatest momentum among the working class majority is toward the mid-term election of more conservative politicians, that include many who would not only raise the official retirement age of American workers [to levels three years higher than that being proposed in France and Greece for instance] and some who would actually privatize the social security system effectively eliminating the program completely. In this context it is quite easy to understand why progressives in the US might be envious as they look across the Atlantic for inspiration and a glimpse of what working class responses to the economic crisis could be[iii]. However, any notion that the mass movement of left and progressive forces against austerity in France can be replicated in the US fail to appreciate the glaring distinctions between the two countries, most importantly the impact of racial/ethnic division in fueling the hegemonic status of conservative/right ideological perspectives in US political discourse[iv].

Even as many Americans tend to underestimate the real level of inequality in the United States[v]; overall tolerance for inequality is much higher in the US than in Europe, and France in particular. In fact, although a recent study has shown that Americans might prefer to live in a more socially equal society[vi], deeper analysis has shown that when race/ethnicity is made an explicit factor, acceptance [particularly by white Americans] of inequality increases. Specifically as the image of poverty becomes framed as predominantly people of color, urban African-Americans and Latino’s in particular, support among whites for redistributive policies is reduced[vii]. In fact, as Alesina and Glaeser’s research has shown, approximately 50% of the difference in support for redistributive policies between the U.S. and social democratic European countries can be explained by racial/ethnic heterogeneity[viii].

Once that is accepted it becomes clear that the reason why the working class white majority in the US will not organize and demand progressive policies, [they are in fact demanding greater austerity upon themselves as manifested through the Tea Party platforms] is that their primary aim is not to secure social rights for the working class as a unified social class identity across racial/ethnic lines but to secure the privileged rights of white working class households apart and socially distinct from workers of color. This is the only way to truly explain why Congressional Democrats have fallen short in gaining the support of this group to Republicans by 10 points in both 2006 and 2008 and watched their deficit balloon to 29 points in the recent mid-terms[ix].

But to truly understand how this came about we must review the history, in particular the New Deal and the original Capital/Labor consensus that existed since WWII but began to collapse in the mid to late 1970’s. In the national trauma that followed the Great Depression and WWII, a new “Social Structure of Accumulation” was established that intended to stabilize the relationship and quell disputes between labor and capital through a capital-labor accord or consensus[x]. The consensus, which became embodied in the New Deal and the Wager Act of 1935 [that preceded the war] created a fragmented system of social protection that actually reinforced the racial/ethnic privileges demanded by the white working class to remain socially and spatially distinct from Blacks. It ensured, [for white workers] full employment in manufacturing industries, provided substantial benefits in terms of health and retirement and a middle class standard of living that didn’t require a great deal of formal education. By limiting labor/capital negotiations on social projection benefits and wages to the firm level rather than nationally or industry wide as in solidarity bargaining strategies institutionalized across Europe, white workers in the US were able to secure social rights within racially exclusive union brokered deals for themselves without having to share those gains with African-American [and Latino] workers excluded from union protection.

African-Americans under New Deal policies experienced new forms of social exclusion from New Deal social protections for the white working class. The racially fragmented social policies laid the structural foundations for the increase in racialized income and wealth disparities in two geographically based forms. In the north, the capital/labor consensus enabled unionized white workers to deny Black workers union membership, access to quality jobs that could support social mobility into the middle class and the many social protections won through disputes against capital[xi]. In the south the compromise over New Deal legislation enabled racist state governments to determine eligibility and levels of support through unemployment and social insurance programs that effectively eliminating Black workers from eligibility since they were largely confined to agricultural and domestic labor[xii]. While African-American workers were by default excluded from social protection programs that were tied to work, when they did receive benefits they typically got lower benefits due to their confinement to the lowest wage sectors of these industries. This left African-American workers disproportionately reliant on “means-tested” programs associated with poverty, which meant that conservatives could then racialize poverty and demonize these social welfare programs for political gain as resulting from deviance rather than the structural realities of race and the predominant political economy accumulation represented by the capital-labor consensus.

Again the primary compromise of the original capital-labor consensus which stabilized the relationship between the two was that white workers would be allowed to maintain their social distance [and superiority] over Black and other workers of color due to their exclusion from the better manufacturing jobs, under funded education and exclusion from protection and advocacy by mainstream labor unions.

The Civil Rights Movement would disrupt that arrangement. Despite the fact that the national Civil Rights leadership was literally forced to abandon economic justice frames in their advocacy, or risk being blacklisted as Communist, the movement’s success had far ranging redistributive political economic implications. For instance, the Civil Rights Act barring discrimination by race in areas of employment, education and housing brought Black workers into direct competition with white unionized workers in manufacturing sectors, forced white school districts to teach Black children along side white children and allowed the emerging Black middle class to abandon socially integrated Black communities for middle class suburban neighborhoods that elevated their asset values while giving them access to wider job possibilities and social networking opportunities.

The success of the Civil Rights Movement was made possible in no small part due to the rising national productivity and high economic growth rates enjoyed throughout the post-war period supported by an expansionary Keynesian macroeconomic policy. Liberal reformers believed that continued high growth rates in the national economy would allow them to extend employment opportunities to African-American workers without asking white workers in segregated labor markets to sacrifice their perceived entitlement to exclusive social rights[xiii]. During this period, the country’s macro-economic priority was to maintain full employment [as supported by the Full Employment Act of 1946] to ensure that aggregate demand continued to grow in order to support a growing economy. According to liberal economic theory of racial reform, “blacks, who suffer more in periods of high unemployment and recession, can be most effectively helped into the economic mainstream by increasing the aggregate labor demand through a policy that boost the overall demand for goods and services in the economy”[xiv]. An expansionary government that increases public spending on public works projects, and entices businesses and consumers to spend more by reducing the cost of credit [or buying out their troubled asset portfolios] can raise the level of aggregate demand in the economy which will lead to growth and increased employment. So long as the national economy continued to grow at good pace, workers of color could be integrated into the labor force without competing directly with white workers for scarce jobs. However, in order for these policies to work, the populace must be willing to cope with the potential outcome of rising inflation due to increased deficit spending[xv]. Further, if growth slows, resulting in an increase in long term unemployment amongst white workers, this would amount to the remaining employed white workers being asked to tax themselves in order to offer inclusion and opportunity for Black workers who then compete against them for jobs. As this scenario began to unfold, it would eventually destabilize the tense peace of the post-civil rights reform era.

Empowered by the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, African-American demands for social rights to accessing public services, education and in redress of past labor discrimination meant not only a direct loss of jobs for white workers but a reduction in their socially privileged status vis-à-vis Black workers. Coupled with the inflationary pressures that followed the OPEC oil shocks of the early 70’s, white workers began to entertain political ideas that questioned the relevance of the old capital-labor consensus.

Since white workers were no longer able to rely on the power of the state to enforce their segregated social privilege and spatial distance from Black workers they eventually bought into free market ideologies that promoted “merit based” allocation of economic opportunity through liberated free market preference. They could safely express their “racial preferences” for social and spatial separation from African-Americans by supporting the establishment and indeed the exalting of private markets in areas such as housing, public education and health care. In short, they would be assured through the expansion of free market ideology only limited competition for jobs since the neoliberalization of national and local governance would deny Blacks access to quality education, poor health care and few transportation options necessary for jobs that increasingly abandoned down town urban districts for majority white suburban labor markets. There would however, be one last vestige of the Civil Rights era that would remain as a persistent thorn. Affirmative Action was instituted as national policy in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement to redress years of employment and educational discrimination by qualified Black job applicants and workers who were passed over for admissions, jobs and promotions. However, during the white backlash that began in the mid-late 70’s and culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, affirmative action began to reframed as a policy of reverse discrimination and the unfair awarding of positions to “un”qualified Black applicants.

A collective myth began to emerge among working class whites that “real Americans” and true citizens didn’t rely on public services or government interference in their favor in order to secure their livelihoods. The ability of an individual or household to achieve a good quality of life through private rather than public or collective means became a symbol of true citizenship and a moral litmus test on who deserved to be serviced by the institutions of the nation. Of course this myth neglects the long history of collective organizing by labor unions and economic justice organizations to secure the labor standards that made the original capital-labor consensus possible. As important, the collective myth of individualism was effective in abstracting from public knowledge the role that government played in supporting the social development of society and in the maintenance of vital public infrastructure and services. This is how we eventually get to Tea Party activist shouting slogans such as the now iconic; “keep the government out of my medicare”. The result of all this however was the hegemonic rise of neoliberal free market social theory which began to be grafted and adopted onto any and every social issue that confronted society. The dominance of neoliberal ideology laid the ground for a rolling back of the ability and will; [by electing right wing ideologues who had no intention of enforcing the Civil Rights Act and were hostile to redistributive economics and targeted labor policies] of government to intervene on the behalf of Black and other workers of color.

The roll back of the state through deregulation also removed any protection the white working class had from the disruptions and volatility of the “free” market by weakening their own bargaining power against capital. Further, the shift from full employment policies meant there was higher unemployment and a larger reserve army of labor which [along with the retreat of unions] further weakened the bargaining power of labor and enabled capital to completely abandon the capital-labor accord that sustained the New Deal state. The result has been a higher share of national income going to profit rather than to worker’s wages.

The before tax profit rate to capital on national income reached 11.6% by 2005 the highest level since 1966. On the labor side, the share of national income going to workers fell to 56.9% of national income, its lowest levels since 1966[xvi]. Intensified global competition justified a shift from national policies that sought to redistribute economic development socially between groups and spatially between regions, forcing both to take on more entrepreneurial positions in order to attain meaningful employment under conditions of “labor flexibility” and to attract the necessary investment to sustain growth in urban markets[xvii]. Stagnating and declining real wages allowed profits to reach record highs but also meant that capital had to look abroad to emerging markets for a consumer base that could absorb it’s productive output which began to bias toward high end services in the financial and knowledge sectors rather than production of real commodities.

The fragmenting of the national economy into low wage/low skilled service sectors and high wage/high skilled technology and knowledge sectors meant that the white working class has lost its primary means of social mobility into the middle class. The traditional path through stable, socially segregated manufacturing labor has been largely outsourced or automated. Meanwhile, as inequality rose to its highest levels since the Great Depression, households had to take on more debt in order to finance their middle class consumer based lifestyles. By 2007, household debt as a percentage of disposable income rose to 128.8% from 59% in 1982[xviii].  When this became unsustainable, the asset bubbles began to burst in 2001. It was only a matter of time before the white working class would erupt and demand action on its behalf.

The modern “Tea Party” is a direct result of this history as the white working class aims to reestablish some measure of segregated social privilege and protection in a volatile free market. Without those protections the white working class cannot sustain or reproduce a white social identity as the mainstream middle class that is privileged and distinct from workers of color. And let’s be clear whites cling to racial identity not out of reverence to heritage or culture but due to the social status and privilege it confers. The deification of the “founding fathers” and the religious zealotry surrounding their interpretation of the National Constitution has more to do with their ability to claim sole ownership over the national narrative and a sincere understanding or acceptance of the document’s intended logic. All this coalesces to make the movement quite schizophrenic as they claim to want and need government action yet they despise the fact that an institution which used to be their sole possession increasingly must consider the needs of a broader group, [i.e. “we want to take our country back!”].

However, as this article argues what the Tea Party is rallying against is not “big government” per se, but the type of “universalist” government that would be advocated by the left to address, through policy the social inclusion of marginalized groups into the mainstream. So a “public option” that would “reduce” the real concerns white working class Americans have with the current state of healthcare to the concerns shared by people of color is unacceptable as it denies their right to an exalted social status and potentially will force them to share waiting room space in hospitals and doctor’s clinics with those they deem socially undesirable.

For that reason, the white working class will likely never be emotionally able to make the obvious connection between their interest and the interest of progressive political activist and communities of color. At least for some generations yet, this will be the case. So in their self-induced paranoid delusion they must shift further and further to the right in hopes that they can somehow retool the state to act in their favor while excluding “the other” from access those same social rights and privileges.

The fundamental dispute between right leaning conservatives and left leaning progressives is over this issue of inclusion. For the right, the national narrative is a country founded and established by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and that entitles them to higher social privileges but also it entitles them to inform or demand of the rest of us of the pace, place and space of our integration into the country’s mainstream if at all. The progressive coalition is an amalgamation of liberal whites and excluded or marginalized social groups who for better are worse are attempting to come together and discuss openly the nature of their inclusion, and to rethink the narrative of the country as a diverse nation and sometimes to demand it. The willingness of the left progressive coalition to have this discussion is its strength and a weakness as it provides little comfort for those who are more attracted to the dictated outcomes that an autocratic leadership can provide. It should be no surprise then that the Tea Party Movement attracts a fairly large share of fundamentalist Christians as well.

This should help us understand how structural racism influences public policy, and in the case of the Tea Party, lead to the rise of a reactionary social movement that on the face of it continues to befuddle liberal political pundits as it appears to consistently advocate for economic positions contrary to its own interest. It’s only when we understand the white working class majority and the Tea Party by extension, are voting not against their economic interest but against a universalization of social rights that would extend to all ethnic groups. Only then can we can gain real appreciation of the task that lay before progressive advocates. It also sheds some light on the consistent charges of the white working class to the elitism of liberal white America who assumes that these groups are somehow ignorant of their true interest or are being led astray. They are much clearer in their goals than we would like to give them credit for.

Yet we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of a “race vs class” discussion that is so familiar to progressives. For at the same time, the point isn’t to call out the movement or any individuals within it as racist or bigots even as they may be. The goal is to understand how structural and institutional racism operate in a liberal free market context and more broadly how race and the politics of white racial identity act to limit the ability of progressive forces to establish a more redistributive system of governance. In short, how race acts as justification for white working class support for neoliberal policies of governance. How the persistence of racial inequality can be made consistent with rising aggregate prosperity.

For the last three or four decades, white leftist in the U.S. have been frustrated at their inability to recruit support from among the white working and middle classes. Throughout this time they have refused time and again to confront the way race is utilized consistently as a wedge in American politics to blunt the potential of progressive coalitions. Refusal to acknowledge and understand the race wedge leaves the white left ineffective as organizers of the white working leaving this group open to right wing conservative ideologies that are more comfortable utilize race as a political weapon to consistently repopulate their base of support. More importantly, inability to confront race as a means of broadening its support has not only meant the left are ineffective, but has allowed conservative and liberal ideologues to altogether eliminate a critical left perspective from the public discourse in America. In the U.S. the “left” is occupied by liberals in what is actually the political center. A quick sweep of American political talk shows that typically feature someone from the right in public debate against a liberal centrist [who is labeled as representing the left] as if a true left opinion did not exist or had no thoughts that the country should feel need to consider or respect. The delegitimizing of the left discourse in American politics as “extreme” can be contrasted with the inclusion of right wing conservative discourse that allows extremist rhetoric like that espoused in Tea Party gatherings to be treated as legitimate discourse. A great example of this is in the national debate on reforming social security as an austerity measure to cut national deficits. The right and center debate the issue within their major frames; right wing focus on individual responsibility leading to calls for privatization and centrist commitments to managerial reforms that can make the program solvent for at least another century at best. Completely absent from the debate [the left or critical class analysis] is the role that rising inequality has in leaving the program short of funding. U.S Social Security is funded by a tax on all income below $90thousand. The greater proportion of American income are held by people who make more than $90thousand cap means that larger share of national income is not being taxed to contribute to the system. Learning to confront the race wedge is critical to any strategy to develop a broader progressive coalition that can open public discourse to a critical class perspective.


[i] http://teapartynationalism.com/

[ii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcvSjKCU_Zo&feature=related

[iii] Why France Matters Here Too;  http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/wolff261010.html

[iv] See: The Right Nation – Conservative Power in America by: John Micklethwait  and Adrian Wooldridge

[v] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130395070

[vi] Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time by:  Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely http://www.people.hbs.edu/mnorton/norton%20ariely%20in%20press.pdf

[vii] Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference by: Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser

[viii] Ibid

[ix] http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/2010/11/election_analysis.html

[x] Social Structure of Accumulation Theory by: Victor Lippit,  in: Contemporary Capitalism and its Crises; edited by: Terrence McDonough, Michael Reich, and David Kotz

[xi] Race, Money and the American Welfare State; by: Michael K. Brown

[xii] Ibid

[xiii] The Political Economy of Hope and Fear: Capitalism and the Black Condition in America; by: Marcellus Andrews

[xiv] American Dilemma; by: Gunnar Myrdal

[xv] The Political Economy of Hope and Fear: Capitalism and the Black Condition in America; by: Marcellus Andrews

[xvi] Social Structure of Accumulation Theory by: Victor Lippit,  in: Contemporary Capitalism and its Crises; edited by: Terrence McDonough, Michael Reich, and David Kotz

[xvii] See: The Neoliberal City: Governance, Ideology and Development in American Urbanism by- Jason Hackworth

[xviii] Social Structure of Accumulation Theory by: Victor Lippit,  in: Contemporary Capitalism and its Crises; edited by: Terrence McDonough, Michael Reich, and David Kotz

Government-Union Wage-Freeze Talks are a Trap

By admin, October 30, 2010 12:54 pm

CUPE Quarterly (Local 3906), Volume I, Issue 2
http://www.cupe3906.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/CUPE-Quarte…

By Ajamu Nangwaya
Chair – External, CUPE 3907

As a trade union member who works in the broader public
sector and would be affected by the proposed wage-freeze,
I have been strongly opposed to labour unions meeting
with the McGuinty Liberals. The only logical purpose behind
these government-initiated meetings is to strike deals with labour bureaucrats at the table in exchange for agreeing to wage-cuts for unionized members.

There is a collective bargaining process through which the working class attempts to extract wages and benefits for the contribution that it makes to the creation of wealth in this society. Why would labour leaders even agree to negotiate with the McGuinty Liberals when the strategic objective of the state is the delivery to the bosses
of the worker’s material interests on the proverbial silver platter?

Were these labour leaders spooked by the implication the Supreme Court’s BC Health Services decision which rejected British Columbia’s unilateral removal of clauses in the collective agreement of public sector workers, and stipulated that governments should negotiate in good faith with the elected representatives of the workers? Is it possible that some of these leaders are still rattled
by public reaction to the recent strikes in the cities of Windsor and Toronto and at York University?

The working-class and labour bureaucrats cannot face the employer with fear in their eyes and minds. As workers, we need to take a broad look at the general attack by the government and private sector actors on all of us who sell our labour, have no real control over the organizing of worklife and little say in the distribution of the fruit of, or profit from, collective labour.

Therefore, we should take the $4.6 billion tax-cut, the attack on the special diet allowance and the postponement of the $4 billion Metrolinx investment in transportation infrastructure as assaults on the working-class of this province. If the labour movement had mobilized its material resources and members when these attacks were advanced in the March 2010 budget, it would have greater credibility with the public that its refusal to take a wage-freeze is
about all workers earning a livable wage.

Organized labour must educate, mobilize and organize its members through a power and democracy from below strategy so as to effectively resist the McGuinty Liberals’ attempt to shaft the workers of this province.

SOURCE: http://linchpin.ca/English/Government-Union-Wage-Freeze-Talks-are-Trap

Labour needs change in perspective

By admin, October 17, 2010 7:55 pm
Published On Sun Oct 17 2010

Re: Unions, the left failed during this recession, Oct. 9

As a trade union member and a researcher on the Canadian labour movement, I couldn’t agree more with Thomas Walkom’s analysis.

The monumental failure of the labour movement in making ideological, material or political gains has much to do with the fact that the leadership of organized labour has thoroughly bought the bill of goods that capitalism is the only option for the working-class in Canada.

The only difference of opinion that that the labour bureaucrats have with the captains of industry and commerce is whether the Hobbesian or Anglo-American version of capitalism, where life is “nasty, brutish and short” or the benign one found in Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark is the preferred way of exploiting labour. Rank-and-file trade union members are not in favour of choosing between the lesser of two evils.

Further, one of the ideological shackles on the minds of labour leaders is the fact that they have bought into the idea that Canada is a largely middle-class society. Yet, they are in the contradictory position of representing the working-class. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of hearing the top labour leaders and social democratic politicians arguing about their objective mission being that of protecting the declining middle-class.

Why should union members express working-class solidarity with each other when they are being told that the desired social destination is the middle-class? This state of affairs is no more evident than in the labour education courses that are carried out in most unions.

These courses do not build workers’ understanding of capitalism as an economic system that is incompatible with their quest to exercise control over work and the product of their labour.

We have class interests that are distinct from the economic and political elites and our ultimate aim should be to control the wealth of this country in order to create the New Jerusalem.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

Link to Walkom’s column: http://www.thestar.com/article/872878

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