Thursday, March 31, 2011

Keith Brooks comment on Organizing the Unemployed

comment given as part of a Left Forum Panel discussion March 19, 2011

transcribed from Youtube video 3/31/11

"Organizing the unemployed is a multi-dimensional, multi-pronged problem. Manny and I organized the unemployed in New York in the early 90s, and I've organized the unemployed in Baltimore and also in New Jersey.

"I would say that one of the main lessons that I would put forward is that nothing happens unless the unemployed themselves get organized and don't rely on the unions, the other community groups. Things happen when the unemployed themselves go into political action. You know, you organize the unemployed, you need to do everything people here have talked about, from service-type stuff, to support groups, to political action meeting/lobbying...[to] direct action. You know, direct action?

"Uh, John in Philadelphia, I think that a little bit of what gets lost in your presentation is: "How did you get some of those things?" You were at the offices, you were demonstrating, you were creating a social upset.

"People have to be willing to do that. The unions are not going to take the lead. I was in the Steelworkers' union in Baltimore in the early 80s, we were laid off. We had to fight to get our own union to actually set up a food bank, even the service stuff, and then to get steelworker unions to support actual political advocacy was another battle itself. So to me, the main lesson in terms of organizing, is that unless the unemployed themselves - union and non-union - are mobilized to be visible, to be public, to be in the face of these agencies and institutions, that the rest isn't gonna happen.

"But it also means stepping on a lot of toes. And it means that the Democrats are sometimes the toes you're going to have to step on. The Republicans are an easy target, but if you pull your punches on it, you're not going to wind up getting what's needed.

"Obviously, the problem of unemployment is a major colossal problem in a capitalist society, but at the same time you can win real gains. We did. In Philadelphia they did. Elsewhere. So the main thing about the unions is: nobody should assume or expect that the unions will take the lead, take the initiative. It will always be in response to the activity of the unemployed."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Organizing the Unemployed - VIDEO

Video of a Left Forum Panel on "Organizing the Unemployed" presented Feb. 11, 2011.

Chair: Emmanuel Ness
Panelists: Joe Stanick, unemployed activist
LaToya Egwuekwe, IAM/U-Cubed
John Dodds, Philadelphia Unemployment Project
Sam Talbot, Flashmobs4jobs

INTRO - Emmanuel Ness

PART 1 - Joe Stanick


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Depression Hits Robinson Crusoe's Island (1932)

From The Industrial Worker - the publication of the IWW - a fable entitled "Depression Hits Robinson Crusoe's Island" in 1932:
"Friday," said Robinson Crusoe, "I'm sorry, I fear I must lay you off. "
"What do you mean, Master?"
"Why, you know there's a big surplus of last year's crop. I don't need you to plant another this year. I've got enough goatskin coats to last me a lifetime. My house needs no repairs. I can gather turtle eggs myself. There's an overproduction. When I need you I will send for you. You needn't wait around here."
"That's all right, Master, I'll plant my own crop, build up my own hut and gather all the eggs and nuts I want myself. I'll get along fine. "
"Where will you do all this, Friday?"
"Here on this island."
"This island belongs to me, you know. I can't allow you to do that. When you can't pay me anything I need I might as well not own it."
"Then I'll build a canoe and fish in the ocean. You don't own that. "
"That's all right, provided you don't use any of my trees for your canoe, or build it on my land, or use my beach for a landing place, and do your fishing far enough away so you don't interfere with my riparian rights."
"I never thought of that, Master. I can do without a boat, though. I can swim over to that rock and fish there and gather sea-gull eggs."
"No you won't, Friday. The rock is mine. I own riparian rights."
"What shall I do, Master?"
"That's your problem, Friday. You're a free man, and you know about rugged Individualism being maintained here."
"I guess I'll starve, Master. May I stay here until I do? Or shall I swim beyond your riparian rights and drown or starve there?"
"I've thought of something, Friday. I don't like to carry my garbage down to the shore each day. You may stay and do that. Then whatever is left of it, after my dog and cat have fed, you may eat. You're in luck."
"Thank you, Master. That is true charity."
"One more thing, Friday. This island is overpopulated. Fifty percent of the people are unemployed. We are undergoing a severe depression, and there is no way that I can see to end it. No one but a charlatan would say that he could. So keep a lookout and let no one land here to settle. And if any ship comes don't let them land any goods of any kind. You must be protected against foreign labor. Conditions are fundamentally sound, though. And prosperity is just around the corner."

[quoted in Franklin Folsom, Impatient Armies of the Poor]

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Report from New Jersey

originally posted by Norman Markowitz on H-Labor Discussion Network

I've just come back from the AFL-CIO led Solidarity rally for Wisconsin Public Employees in Trenton, New Jersey. There will be I hope significant media coverage of the rally, in which thousands attended in very bad weather(pouring rain at points) to here Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CI0 and trade union leaders from New Jersey and Wisconsin, along with Civil Rights leaders, call for negotiation rather than dictatorial legislation in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, and other states.

There were teachers and fireman, trade unionists representing public employees and private sector employees in the crowd. And there was a labor historian or two who I ran into.

What was important at least to me about the rally was the understanding in the crowd that we are all under the gun through the country--that, as one of the speakers said, Republican Governors were reading from the same script.

In New Jersey, there was particular anger at a Governor who keeps on using the phrase "class warfare," and has his own Monty Python version of the class struggle--there are two classes in New Jersey, he keeps on saying, the privileged overpaid underworked public employees and the hard working tax payers they exploit. But whether the rhetoric from Republican leaders is as smooth as a used car salesman or as Archie Bunkeresque as Christie of New Jersey, everyone understood at the rally that the policy is the same across the country.

Which brings me to a point that wasn't really raised by speakers at the rally but was in the back of the minds of many in the crowd. What is the federal government, meaning the administration, doing to stand with labor, to stand with the voters who elected it in 2008.

Isn't it the responsibility of the Obama administration to say to the people that labor had nothing to do with the deregulation over the last thirty years that sparked the stock market crisis of 2008; that labor opposed the "detaxation" of the same period which concentrated more and more wealth in the hands of the top 5 percent of income earners while the overwhelmingly majority of income earners saw their purchasing power decrease and the personal debt rise.

There were Democratic politicians present at the rally but they didn't speak. Democrats were praised by speakers for walking out of Republican dominated legislatures to block these draconian policies, but shouldn't we expect much more than them and the Obama administration than that.

Perhaps the Obama administraiton might call for the federal government absorbing the budget deficits of those states which ended the cutbacks and began to invest in the people. All of the budget deficits of the states taken together are a fraction of what the administration pumped into the banks, the corporations and wall street. Isn't it time for the administration to begin to provide policies that seriously defend the interests of its core constituencies?

Norman Markowitz