A fork in the road for teachers’ unions?

Members of a New York City teachers' union rank-and-file caucus rally against testing (Movement of Rank and File Educators)Members of a New York City teachers’ union rank-and-file caucus rally against testing (Movement of Rank and File Educators)

A STRING of events in little more than a week have highlighted the diverging strategies in teachers’ unions over how to defend educators and the right to public education.

In Seattle, in union elections that concluded May 8, the insurgent RESPECT slate came within a whisker of capturing the top position in the Seattle Education Association (SEA).

Jesse Hagopian, a member of Social Equality Educators (SEE) and a leader of last year’s boycott of the MAP test at Garfield High School, when then spread to other city schools, fell just 45 votes short of unseating incumbent President Jonathan Knapp. The RESPECT candidate for SEA treasurer, Dan Troccoli, advanced to a runoff election after placing second in a three-way race for union treasurer. RESPECT–which was initiated by the SEE caucus–captured six of the 20 executive board seats contested in the election.

The results show widespread support for SEE’s strategy of both defending the teaching profession and fighting for fully funded–and equitable–public schools. It was SEE activists like Hagopian, in partnership with parents and community allies, who helped initiate and lead the successful MAP boycott that gave a boost to the anti-testing movement around the U.S.

SEE plans continue that fight. “We said this from the beginning that this campaign wasn’t about just one person–it certainly wasn’t about me,” Hagopian said at a post-election party. “It was about building an organization.” He added: “We have articulated a vision of what our students deserve, what our educators deserve, and what our families deserve in this city, and I think that’s a vision that isn’t going to end with this campaign.”

The day after the SEA results were announced, Barbara Madeloni, the candidate of Educators for a Democratic Union, was elected president of the 110,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association. A former University of Massachusetts-Amherst English teacher fired for refusing to participate in a corporate-run standardized test for teacher certification, Madeloni spoke up for the concerns of K-12 teachers angry over their union’s concessions on pensions and its collaboration with corporate education reformers.

“We need to tell the stories of the destructive impact of corporate reform and hyper-accountability on students, education workers and school character,” Madeloni said in her campaign statement. “We need to stop this assault at every level, however it manifests.”

Madeloni’s victory is a significant development for the National Education Association (NEA), which, with nearly 3 million members, is the largest of the two national teachers’ union.

Her election came 10 days after veteran teacher and social justice activist Alex Caputo-Pearl won a runoff election to capture the presidency of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), as part of a sweeping victory for the Union Power slate. What happens in the LA teachers’ union has a national impact–UTLA is the second-biggest local teachers’ union in the U.S. and is affiliated with both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Like Madeloni, Caputo-Pearl is vowing to take on corporate education reformers. “It is open season on our members, yet very few members of the public beyond our ranks know what is happening to us,” Caputo-Pearl told Education Week. “What we need is a public relations campaign that highlights the attacks on UTLA members in the context of highlighting the broader attacks on our students and their families, including massive destabilizations of schools when educators are pulled out without due process, and students lose critical programs.”

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UTLA’s UNION Power slate, like its counterparts in Seattle, Massachusetts and other cities, looked to the example of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), where the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) took office in 2010.

Back then, the combative new leaders of the CTU were isolated. AFT President Randi Weingarten had spent that year urging local teachers unions to surrender decades of gains in collective bargaining. Her “model or template,” as she put it, was an agreement in New Haven, Conn., that stripped the contract to a handful of pages, gutted tenure and imposed merit pay that fostered competition rather than collaboration among teachers.

Similar deals ensued in Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Florida as the AFT sought to prove itself as a “partner” with school officials and politicians who take their marching orders from corporate education reformers. Dennis Van Roekel, president of the far larger NEA, stumbled along behind Weingarten as budget cuts slashed union membership rolls and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top legislation, which gave states incentives to pass laws that hit NEA affiliates with harsh new teacher evaluation systems, attacks on tenure and the proliferation of charter schools.

In that atmosphere, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel–the former White House chief of staff who made teacher bashing central to his campaign to lead the country’s third largest city–thought he could crush the CTU.

Instead, CORE led the CTU into a successful strike two years later with overwhelming popular support. In the contract that ended the nine-day strike, the CTU gave ground on some issues, but decisively broke from the AFT’s approach to teacher contracts by holding on to tenure rights, blocking merit pay and even expanding union power at the workplace. It was a maddening defeat for Emanuel and the entire education reform camp, while CTU President Karen Lewis achieved rock-star status.

Since then, the CTU has absorbed some blows–Emanuel carried out the closure of 50 elementary schools last year, and followed that up with layoffs of some 3,000 teachers and staff. But the union is continuing to forge alliances with parents and the community to defend public education.

On May 7, CTU delegates once again showed their boldness by voting to reject the new Common Core curriculum that is fueling parent outrage across the U.S. The vote was the product of months of intense debate in the CTU. It was another example of the union democracy on display in the 2012 strike, when union delegates voted to stay off the job two days after an agreement was reached so that rank-and-file members would have the opportunity to debate it–and vote on it–at the picket line.

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THE PICTURE is very different for New York City teachers.

On the very same day, that CTU delegates voted to oppose Common Core, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew blustered his way through a hard sell of a proposed concessionary contract to a meeting of union delegates–one for which teachers have been waiting for five long years, while former Mayor Michael Bloomberg stonewalled the UFT.

At a Delegate Assembly meeting, Mulgrew demanded–and got–an immediate vote on sending the tentative agreement to members for ratification, even though the delegates had just received a lengthy summary of the contract.

Even loyalists in Mulgrew’s own Unity caucus privately raised questions about a pay raise of 18 percent over nine years, including retroactive pay to cover the years of pay freezes under Bloomberg. Spread out over that many years, the raises won’t keep up with inflation–and the retroactive hikes won’t be fully paid out until 2020. The contract also locks in a punitive and unworkable teacher evaluation scheme that was imposed by an arbitrator.

The rest of the proposed UFT deal features many of the provision that AFT President Weingarten has pushed on union locals around the U.S.–an optional “thin,” New Haven-style contract for as many as 200 schools, a merit pay scheme styled after the ones in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and merit pay being used in Cleveland.

The rest of the proposed UFT deal features many of the provision that AFT President Weingarten has pushed on union locals around the U.S.–an optional “thin,” New Haven-style contract for as many as 200 schools, a merit pay scheme styled after the ones now in place in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

The proposed contract’s inclusion of merit pay was a major issue for Julie Cavanaugh, the presidential candidate of the opposition Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE) caucus in last year’s UFT elections. “The proposed contract will divide educators into several tiers,” Cavanaugh wrote. “Once we destroy union solidarity, we destroy our union. Career ladders are nothing more than a merit pay scheme with a different name.”

She also criticized a fast-track firing process for union members stuck in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, made up largely of teachers who lost their job to school closures or budget cuts and were unable to find a new job. ATRs could be forced from their jobs if two principals rate them as “unprofessional.” As Cavanaugh wrote, “Due process, job security and fair evaluations for all educators are the foundations of any teachers’ union contract. There cannot be two sets of rules for educators.”

As a union delegate, Cavanaugh took to the floor of the meeting to try and voice those criticisms. But according to members who were there, Mulgrew, having called on far more supporters of the deal than opponents, called an end to the meeting before she could speak.

MORE is organizing a “no” vote campaign on the contract, but the caucus faces an uphill battle against the UFT leadership in the Unity caucus, which has run the union for half a century. Still, having scored major gains in last year’s union elections, MORE has been able to broaden its network to reach more of the 90,000 teachers in the UFT. Whatever the outcome of the contract vote, the campaign has the potential to connect with teachers who are angry and upset over the deal–and the continuing failure of the UFT to draw a line.

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THE TREND toward more militant teacher unionism remains modest, but it is significant.

Reformers made inroads in the local in Newark, N.J., and progressive union leaderships in St. Paul, Minn., and Portland, Ore., won solid contracts in recent months because they followed the CTU example, preparing for a strike with both internal mobilization and building parent-community alliances.

Teachers in many other union locals don’t hold union office, and won’t in the foreseeable future, but they are having an impact on their unions by building militant, activist caucuses. Those groups have established a network that met in Chicago last summer and again at the Labor Notes conference last month. Plus, the emerging alliance of the CTU and UTLA will create a powerful voice for a more assertive brand of teacher unionism. It’s noteworthy that Karen Lewis is slated to appear at the LA union’s leadership conference in September.

After two decades of corporate school reform, privatization, degradation of educators and obsessive testing of students, there’s an emerging alternative to the AFT and NEA leadership’s strategy of collaboration at any cost. The challenges ahead for militant teacher unionists are many. But the fightback has begun.

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

Running for 15 in Portland

Nicholas CalebNicholas Caleb

WHAT MADE you decide to run for City Council?

I WAS following a lot of developments around the fast-food workers’ strikes and 15 Now, and believed that we have a lot of untapped energy that could push these movements forward. On the heels of the Sawant victory, we believed that we could quickly put together a campaign and draw attention to working-class issues.

At the time, the teachers were about to go on strike, the Portland State University (PSU) professors and city workers were close to going on strike, and the longshore workers were still locked out. The idea was that we’d put forward a broad working-class framework that would not only give support to 15 Now, but also give support to all these struggles that were going on.

HOW HAS the Sawant campaign shaped your view of the role of socialists running for and holding elected office in the U.S.?

SINCE SHE’S taken office, she’s been tremendous. She’s been a warrior for pushing the issue of 15 Now. She continues to organize people. They have rapid response teams in neighborhoods in parts of the city of Seattle.

She didn’t just use strong messaging to get elected and then fall into the scene. After the “fake 15″ came out from the Seattle City Council, she said no. They asked, “Why won’t you compromise?” She asked, “Why won’t Starbucks compromise?”

YOU’VE SAID that it’s more important to build movements than it is to win this election.

PART OF this campaign is to get people to see that the issues they care about are really widespread. They see the possibility that a candidate might win on these issues, and that makes it more real for some people.

15 Now started here in Portland with just a handful of our people. All of a sudden, it’s catching on quickly–and this is the point. People who are affected most by wealth inequality are seeing that you can talk about these things in the political arena and participate in a broad-based coalition to put them forward.

Having more organized working-class movements is the goal. And a $15 minimum wage is an issue that’s really affecting people now. The number of people who are on minimum wage is increasing. There are college graduates who are earning minimum wage for decades at a time.

It’s an issue that affects women and people of color and pretty much all the constituencies that would make up a broad working-class movement. It’s a national issue, and it’s something we could do right away–and show that we could actually organize and win.

ONE OF your main slogans has been “Everyone has a right to the city”–meaning the homeless, the poor, people of color and immigrants. Gentrification is a major economic force pushing people out of Portland. Tell us about how you propose we fight gentrification.

THERE ARE two ways to fight gentrification. One is what we’ve been talking about–raising wages so people can afford to live. But there has to be some form of rent control, and there has to be a slew of anti-displacement policies that totally reorganizes how our development works.

Instead of just going for the biggest projects that will yield the most revenue, the city could buy up vacant plots of land and then ask neighborhoods what they want. If people wanted to build affordable housing, we could do it.

Oregon’s housing policies are terrible. We’re pre-empted from imposing rent control or inclusionary zoning–two policies we could do right now to slow down gentrification.

POLICE BRUTALITY and abuse has been a major problem in Portland. How do you propose we fight and organize against this?

PORTLAND HAS a history of being an extremely segregated and openly racist town, and the police have been an integral part of this structure. We have to de-militarize and disarm the police and end the stop-and-frisk policy. And we need a citizen-run review board with the ability to subpoena, cross-examine and dismiss police officers. The police have full impunity.

WHEN YOU spoke alongside Kshama Sawant in Portland recently, you said, “Capitalism is insane.” Can you expand on this?

CAPITALISM IS insane because it drives global inequality in every possible way and because it pushes us toward environmental destruction. We have an economic system of total endless growth. In order to continue its growth machine, capitalists bought into being the crisis-ridden financial sector. We saw the effects of it in 2008 and onward when people ended up getting kicked out of their homes.

We live in an age of unprecedented technology, so where is all the leisure time? One of capitalism’s imperatives is growth, but the other is domination and control–putting people in cubicles, making them work jobs that don’t really do anything, with a lot of mid-level managers.

We have the tools to address inequities, but these tools are not put into motion under capitalism. These reforms that we want, these revolutionary changes, are not going to be handed down to us. The people who actually make this machine work have the power to halt the machine by stopping their labor.

YOUR ACTIVISM in Portland began with involvement in Occupy. What impact do you think the message of Occupy has had on working-class consciousness?

WORKING-CLASS consciousness shifted quickly during Occupy. All of a sudden, you could talk about wealth inequality and not be labeled a lunatic or a whiner. Occupy was beaten off the streets, but the conversation keeps coming back, and now open socialists are taking seats in big cities, like in Seattle. Even the Democrats have to give it lip service.

It activated a lot of rank-and-file union workers to put more pressure on their leadership to broaden what unions think is possible. A good example of that is with the teachers’ strike. A lot of people who were pushing hard for that were around with Occupy, and they were able to make the teachers’ demands community demands. I don’t think that would have happened if Occupy hadn’t allowed for that space.

As far as my own development, I had a degree in law and another in policy, and I was on track to become an attorney, but as soon as Occupy began, I had a huge shift. In a three- or four-month period, I was exposed to a lot of ideas that terrified me, but I had the space to investigate and learn and meet a ton of people.

Since then, I’ve learned how to say no to all the compromises with all the contradictions we have to live in the U.S. A lot of other people joined in. For me, it was revolutionary.

OREGON CURRENTLY has a state pre-emption law preventing cities from setting their own minimum wage. What will it take to win $15 an hour in Oregon?

IN OREGON, it will probably take a ballot initiative. In Portland, in the short term, the pre-emption stops us from a traditional raise in the minimum wage, so I’ve proposed what I’m calling a Living Wage Tax or a Reverse Walmart policy.

Today, Walmart feeds their employees into taxpayer-supported services so they won’t have to pay a living wage. Under my plan, we would tax employers who won’t pay $15 an hour. Except it would be a progressive tax so that the largest employers–your Walmarts, your Targets, your McDonalds–would be taxed at a much higher rate than the small businesses.

The money collected would be distributed as a social dividend so that any employee not earning $15 could go down to the revenue bureau and collect the rest of their check. It might be more attractive than a straight minimum wage. We could be a national leader in mass redistributive policies.

FOR A ballot initiative like this, the statewide campaign would have to be massive. A lot of movement and rank-and-file union forces would have to be set into motion.

YES, BUT raising the minimum wage is very popular. When the argument is made that the system will collapse if the wage is raised by 70 percent, you just have to ask: Does the system collapse when all these profits go to the 1 Percent? I want to have those discussions. It doesn’t take much to get through these arguments.

So if organized right, it’s an issue that the unions could get behind. 15 Now is a way for unions to expand and organize nonunion workers and to get a concrete win for a lot of other workers. That’s when you really start to move forward. That’s why in Seattle, the council is trying hard to undercut the victory.

A SPECIAL committee created by the Seattle mayor, which is stacked with business leaders, has decided to try to ram through a watered-down $15 minimum wage bill. What do you think about this latest bill, and what do you see as the next steps for the Seattle 15 Now campaign?

I LIKED the way Kshama came out condemning all the exemptions and phase-ins. It’s designed to make her and the broader movement look unreasonable. All of these powerful business interests came together, and even organized labor was at the table, which gave it the appearance of being balanced.

Well, it’s a small increase for some people for a while, no increase at all for others when you factor in tip credit and insurance compensation, but even 15 itself is a compromise.

If you’re a mother in a city and you’re trying to pay for child care, that’s a majority of your check. Then there’s rent and food. So with all these exemptions for tips and health insurance, it’s basically crap. So I think it’s great that Sawant and Socialist Alternative are planning to take it to the ballot.

DO YOU think this Seattle tactic will be mimicked in Portland?

DEFINITELY. BUT we’d have to continue to build the movement locally, expand into neighborhoods and then gear up for a ballot initiative fight.

THE 15 Now campaign and the fast food and Walmart strikes are an example of how even nonunion, private-sector workers can help to build what could develop into a national working-class movement.

YES, THEY’RE driving the national movement. These are risks that people are taking without any protection at all–already on the edge, in deep poverty, basically risking the only employment they have to push this forward. These are some of the most inspiring and encouraging developments we’ve seen in a long time.

Portland has seen what were to be imminent teachers’ and students’ strikes, and the PSU professors’ struggle back to back. I am so happy that people are ready to say no and walk out on strike to get what they need. That all these groups were taking these steps at the same time was inspiring.

The people in each of these groups and the community organized so well to get the support they would need to run successful strikes. I told the teachers at my candidate interview that I was kind of let down that they didn’t strike. I think they would have gotten everything they wanted and more. They had the community support. It would have been an amazing spectacle that opened up a political space.

I think if the teachers had gone on strike, the professors would have gone on strike, and probably the city workers would have gone on strike. If that had happened, workers’ consciousness would have been driven forward much faster.

SOME HAVE said that we could have virtually shut down the city with what was planned between the teacher strike, the AAUP struggle, and the planned demonstrations, not to mention the city workers, as you just said.

YES, THAT’S the closest to a general strike that we’ve been. But even without that, in a short amount of time, they went from believing they could never strike to overwhelming majorities in favor.

Pretty soon, the same issues are going to come up again, because the problems haven’t been solved. People have been so beat down that we’re not only concerned with material gains, but also issues of basic respect. That energy is going to continue to foment. If we continue to do our jobs as organizers, meeting people where they’re at and educating them, next time this situation comes around, we’ll be in a stronger position.

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

A real alternative for mayor in Oakland

Dan SiegelDan Siegel

LEADING CIVIL rights lawyer and activist Dan Siegel is campaigning as an independent candidate for mayor of Oakland, Calif. The Oakland branch of the International Socialist Organization endorses this campaign because we believe it can contribute to building more capable, coherent and confident movements for social and economic justice.

Oakland is a major West Coast port, a celebrated cultural center and one of the most multiracial American cities, but is also beset by high unemployment, violent crime, racist police, rapid gentrification and struggling schools. Siegel’s program for addressing the social crisis represents a challenge to the political norms that have been disastrous for the majority of Oaklanders.

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Where Does Siegel Stand?

Housing Rights: A tech-fueled economic boom centered in nearby San Francisco and Silicon Valley is driving rapidly rising rents and extensive African American out-migration throughout the region. Oakland is no exception; the city has lost a quarter of its Black population since 2000.

Siegel will seek stronger rent and eviction controls, and advocate for an elected rent control board, as well as city-provided legal counsel for tenants. He also supports a mandate that new construction projects include large numbers of low-income housing units. And Siegel backs the formation of a Joint Powers Authority with the nearby city of Richmond, which would use eminent domain powers to seize and refinance underwater mortgages to keep local residents in their homes.

Low-Wage Workers’ Rights: Siegel promises to use the power of the office of mayor to raise Oakland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, starting with city workers, and vigorously support efforts to unionize food service and retail sectors. As a first step, Siegel is supporting the “Lift Up Oakland” initiative on the ballot in November, which would raise the minimum wage to $12.25 an hour–his campaign is organizing volunteers to hit the streets to collect signatures.

Immigrant Rights: Oakland is a destination for large numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America, many of whom are undocumented. Siegel will reaffirm Oakland’s status as a “sanctuary city” by directing local police and other city officials to refrain from collaborating with federal immigration authorities. He will also advocate expanding the city identification card program to all residents, regardless of legal status.

Quality Public Education: The Oakland Unified School District enrolled 55,000 students in 2000–today, 37,000 are enrolled. Decades of state budget cuts coupled with the proliferation of privately administered charter schools has led to a huge drain of students and resources from the public schools. Trapped in a vicious cycle, the remaining under-resourced public schools are blamed by politicians for being unsuccessful and inefficient.

Siegel proposes a moratorium on new charter schools. He plans to use city funding to provide universal pre-K education for all Oakland children between the ages of 3 and 5. He also supports expanded after-school programming for children and adults. These proposals, not to mention his support for increasing teacher salaries, constitute important steps toward revitalizing public education in Oakland.

Jobs and Infrastructure Improvement: The unemployment rate in Oakland remains over 10 percent, with much higher concentrations of joblessness for youth and workers of color in parts of West and East Oakland. Siegel supports bringing more jobs to Oakland with a privately funded waterfront stadium for the Oakland Athletics (he explicitly opposes providing the team owners with any public funds.) He also aims to increase spending on infrastructure improvements such as street repairs and city-provided internet access for all.

Public Safety: Oakland is consistently ranked one of the most dangerous large cities in the country. City officials have attempted to arrest their way out of this problem, only to facilitate the development of a corrupt, brutal and notoriously racist police department. The Oakland Police Department (OPD) even failed for the last decade to implement court-ordered reforms after a scandal that exposed four police officers for engaging in assault, kidnapping, planting drugs and cover-ups.

Most Oakland mayoral candidates offer a simple solution for the problem of violent crime: hire more police. They advocate for this despite the fact that the city government already allocates nearly half its discretionary budget to the OPD. Siegel’s position stands out clearly from the rest of the field. He opposes enlarging OPD and argues that the city will be safe only when Oaklanders enjoy social and economic justice. As he said in a candidate forum on public safety:

How can we really make this city a safe city when half the young people in Oakland don’t have jobs, when the high school graduation rate for African Americans and Latinos is barely over 50 percent? We will continue to have a crime wave in this country that will not stop until we address the issues raised by Occupy…three times as many people are in prison as there were thirty years ago, yet we all feel unsafe.

Siegel promises zero tolerance toward police misconduct and opposes racial profiling in the guise of stop-and-frisk, youth curfews and gang injunctions. As a lawyer, he has represented the family of Alan Blueford, the high school senior shot dead by OPD Officer Miguel Masso in May 2012, among many other cases.

All of this shows why Siegel deserves support from those seeking to challenge the New Jim Crow in Oakland.

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Is Community Policing the Answer?

Siegel is an advocate for “community policing.” He proposes deploying more police to walk neighborhood beats, made possible by transferring some of them from inefficient citywide units and by civilianizing office work.

Here, we disagree with Seigel. Deploying more police, especially Oakland police, to walk neighborhood beats will lead to more potentially deadly interactions with young people of color, which is exactly the opposite of Siegel’s intention.

The historical practices and institutional structure of professional police forces are such that we should always expect them to protect the privileges of the 1 Percent. In the U.S., this means the very often violent enforcement of a highly unequal and racist social order. As Siegel himself said when he spoke on the second anniversary of Alan Blueford’s murder by the OPD, when police terrorize young people, people of color and union members, “They are doing their jobs.” The problem is how the system is set up, not simply a few bad cops.

Siegel’s plan includes civilian oversight of the police and strict accountability enforcements. Many of these demands have a long history in the civil rights movement. We don’t doubt that Siegel sincerely hopes his proposals will decrease police brutality by giving local residents more control over the police force.

However, we don’t have any faith that the ongoing damage done to Oakland by the OPD can be contained without building a powerful mass movement against police brutality and the racist criminal injustice system.

In fact, the OPD must be drastically downsized as a precondition for any real transformation of the city budget. Nearly half of the current budget–43 percent–is allocated to the police, which cost the city, on average, $180,000 each per year in pay and benefits. Cutting the OPD in half would free up more than $50 million per year. This turns out to be roughly the amount of money the city would need to hire 600 teachers–at $90,000 a year in pay and benefits–to provide pre-K education to all Oakland kids.

Despite this important difference of opinion on community policing, we believe Siegel’s reframing of the public safety problem as an issue rooted in social and economic injustice intervenes positively in a crucial debate about the future of Oakland.

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The Democratic Party and Oakland

Siegel recognizes the limits of a single campaign for mayor. If elected, he will be faced with a City Council that has grown accustomed to partnering with big business and protecting a corrupt police department. Winning real change will require organizing Oaklanders to resist these forces.

That is one reason why Siegel’s mayoral campaign cannot be only about electing him. It has to be about building a political alternative to business as usual. Siegel took an important step in this direction when he decided, before the campaign began, to deregister from the Democratic Party in favor of “decline to state” status–that is, as an independent.

Practically speaking, Oakland has been a one-party Democratic town since Lionel Wilson’s election in 1977. There are no Republicans on the City Council, and Barack Obama received almost 90 percent of the presidential vote in 2008 and 2012. So Siegel’s decision risks alienating the Democratic establishment that dominates Oakland. Why did he take this risk?

No one fighting for economic and social justice misses the racist Oakland Republican establishment that lost power in the 1970s. But the policies of the last three mayors–Jerry Brown, Ron Dellums and Jean Quan–expose the limits of the Democratic Party. All three campaigned from the liberal-left flank of the party. But once in office, all three prioritized the interests of the 1 Percent.

This flip-flop was most obvious in the case of Jean Quan. Whatever one thinks of her motivations, in 2010, she personally stood between police and protesters during demonstrations over the murder of Oscar Grant by a BART transit officer. In 2011, she ordered the police to attack the Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall in the newly named Oscar Grant Plaza.

Quan’s actions in 2011 prompted Siegel to sever a decades-long political relationship with her. He tweeted, “No longer Mayor Quan’s legal advisor. Resigned at 2 am. Support Occupy Oakland, not the 1% and its government facilitators.”

Siegel’s decision to quit the Democratic Party stems, at least in part, from a recognition that we need a new party for the 99 Percent to confront the two parties of the 1 Percent. His best chance for winning is to polarize the race between himself, as the candidate standing for radical change, against a field of “me too” candidates who represent mere shades of grey among the status quo.

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What Will Oakland Look Like in Ten Years?

Many different sorts of people see opportunity in Oakland. The Bay Property Group distributes promotional material that asks “Why Invest in Oakland?” Its answer:

Fifteen years ago, the recognition might have been unthinkable, but a thriving culinary scene and revitalized nightlife culture have placed the city of Oakland as #5 in the New York Times “Places to Go” in the world…The Art Murmur…is attracting an estimated 20,000 people…tenants are flocking to Oakland as a new, hip alternative to San Francisco’s pricey rental units.

Oakland can’t easily offer the rock-bottom taxes and space to sprawl that technology corporations have found in Silicon Valley, but none of that was necessary for San Francisco to attract vast amounts of high-tech investment. Instead, San Francisco has catered to businesses that want to offer a desirable place to live and work, while benefiting from the existing infrastructure and networks that have been built up around the Bay. San Francisco, however, is filling up, and Oakland is right next door.

Will the majority of Oaklanders be able to use the dramatic expansion of the regional economy to shift the balance of social and political power in their favor? Or will the city that was site of the last general strike in the U.S. and home of the Black Panther Party become another place where workers are defeated and African Americans expelled?

Home to relatively strong unions and a diverse ecology of community organizations, Oakland remains one of the most left-leaning cities in the U.S. We experienced the power of the 99 Percent when Occupy Oakland briefly dominated city politics by demonstrating its ability to take over the streets and shut down the Port of Oakland. But in the years since, protests and pickets have mobilized far fewer numbers.

Siegel’s campaign will not solve all our problems–no one is more aware of that than Siegel himself. But if enough activists join his campaign, it could begin to cohere a post-Occupy Oakland left–one which can organize in the streets, on picket lines and for the ballot box simultaneously.

If Siegel wins the election, his ability to advance his best proposals will depend on the power of movements that back him now–and, it must be said, movements that will need the organizational and political clout to keep him accountable to the people who put him in office.

This is why the Oakland International Socialist Organization supports Siegel’s campaign for mayor. We encourage community and labor activists and all Oakland radicals to do the same. You don’t need to agree with Siegel about everything in order to see that his campaign can play a role in building more unified, better organized and more aggressive movements for economic and social justice.

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

Interpreters on the picket line

Purple Communications strikers on the picket line (Alex Kueny | SW)Purple Communications strikers on the picket line (Alex Kueny | SW)

“CUTTING OUR health care is a sick idea!” read the signs carried by strikers on a picket line outside Purple Communications in San Diego, where American Sign Language (ASL) video relay service (VRS) interpreters staged a one-day Unfair Labor Practice work stoppage on May 5.

Workers say they walked out to pressure management to address their demand for a contract, and to register their anger at proposed health care cuts and continued workload increases.

The determination of the strikers, who are members of Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521, was on display for an inspiring 12 hours, as they were joined by local activists and community supporters from the start of Purple’s workday at 6 a.m. until its close at 6 p.m.

Throughout the day, passing drivers honked their horns in support of the action–most notably San Diego Unified School District and the Metropolitan Transit System bus drivers, who may be pushed to stage a strike of their own later this year.

The San Diego strikers were joined by their fellow interpreters on picket lines at Purple locations in Oakland, Phoenix and Denver. Purple Communications provides video interpretation services in phone calls between ASL users on one side and English or Spanish speakers on the other.

The strike represents the latest step in a process that began with a unionization drive in November 2012, although the four worksites that participated in the work stoppage remain Purple’s only unionized worksites.

The effort to unionize was ultimately driven by management’s desire to increase the pace of work while simultaneously decreasing interpreters’ break time. This has led to higher rates of workplace repetitive motion injuries (RMI) as the interpreters’ arms, wrists and fingers suffer from the increased signing workloads.

This makes management’s intention to cut health care benefits all the more egregious. A former video interpreter said:

Interpreters (much more patient than I) are fighting and don’t want to give up on VRS because it’s so necessary for deaf people. I was working far into burnout mode–way too much work for way too little pay, and no one gave a crap about the quality of my interpreting. [We] would be led on about bonus incentives that would quietly just get swept under the rug. Now they’re threatening health care. All of the work that has been put into determining healthy work conditions for interpreters in the community doesn’t seem to stand in VRS from my experience.

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IN ADDITION to addressing these issues, the strikers are hoping that the work stoppage will compel management to grant them a contract–something no VRS interpreters from any VRS company have had before.

The tactical goal of the one-day strike was to threaten the subsidy Purple Communications receives from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in exchange for providing interpreting services free-of-charge for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) and hearing callers who require it. The company only receives its FCC subsidy if 80 percent of the incoming calls’ average wait time to connect to an interpreter is one minute or less.

By stopping work for 12 hours at four different worksites, the overall wait-time of callers was increased, thus putting the subsidy in jeopardy. In this way, the interpreters were able to seriously threaten one of the company’s main revenue sources while limiting the length of the stoppage (and thus the amount of lost wages workers have to endure) to a single workday.

The interpreters say they are hopeful that the threat to Purple’s bottom line will be enough to convince management to decrease workloads, to shy away from the proposed health benefit cuts and?significantly?to award 144 video interpreters their first contract.

At stake is not only the quality of their livelihoods, but the quality of the interpretation services which both hearing and deaf consumers are dependent on to communicate with friends and family.

Because of the FCC subsidies received by Purple, these services are ultimately paid for by American taxpayers. The uniquely capitalist absurdity of this situation is that the very workers who actually provide VRS have been forced to sacrifice a day’s worth of pay in order to make sure that taxpayer (read: working class) money from the FCC which is intended for that service actually goes to it.

Meanwhile, the managers who exercise control over that money and the interpreters’ livelihoods are perfectly content to divert those funds away from a necessary and valuable social service and the people who provide it, and into the company’s own private coffers instead.

Unfortunately, this situation is far from unique. But fortunately, neither is the courage of the Purple interpreters.

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

The road to 15 in Seattle

Seattle supporters of a $15 minimum wage on the march (15Now.org)Seattle supporters of a $15 minimum wage on the march (15Now.org)

“SEATTLE WORKERS are getting a raise,” Mayor Ed Murray announced at a May 1 press conference held hours before marchers swarmed downtown Seattle streets to take part in the annual May Day march for immigrant and workers rights.

But a look at the fine print of the proposal negotiated by the mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee has low-wage workers and their supporters asking questions: Will we get $15? Which workers? All of us? How soon? Are there catches? And looming over them all: Is Murray’s plan a done deal? Or can Seattle business still find a way to torpedo it?

The labor and social movement activists who built the Fight for 15 struggle from the grassroots, including City Council member Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative, celebrated the announcement of a deal to achieve a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle as a vindication of many hard months of organizing that finally forced the political establishment to listen.

But Sawant and others grouped around the 15 Now campaign say Murray’s plan comes up short. It contains unnecessary concessions to business and loopholes that will leave some workers behind.

We can do better than the Murray plan–which is why 15 Now has filed the paperwork to get a stronger, faster and less conditional proposal for a $15 minimum wage on the November ballot.

But that initiative will face a difficult battle, in the face of hostility from business, the city’s Democratic Party establishment and sections of organized labor that are going along with the mayor–all of which raises pressing questions that labor activists and the left need to answer in the weeks to come.

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SAWANT WAS right to declare, in her response to Murray’s plan, that the mayor’s proposal was only made as “a result of the pressure from this movement.” Like around the country, protests and walkouts by low-wage workers at fast-food restaurants and other businesses forced the issue of a living wage into mainstream discussion.

The Fight for 15 activism at the grassroots fed enthusiasm for Sawant’s outsider challenge for a seat on the City Council–and the groundswell of support for Sawant in turn pressured even establishment Democrats to declare their support for a $15 an hour minimum wage. Both Murray and his opponent, incumbent Mayor Michael McGinn, had climbed on board the Fight for 15 bandwagon before the election in November.

Murray won in a close vote. In January, he announced that he would keep his promise to seek a $15 minimum wage–but that he would put together the Income Inequality Advisory Committee (IIAC), made up of 24 members representing various political, business and labor interests, to come up with the actual proposal.

From the start, it was clear that the job of the IIAC was to placate business interests around three key questions: First, including health care benefits and tips as part of the calculations of the minimum wage; second, phasing in the new wage over many years, with a different pace depending on the size of the business; and third, determining how to classify businesses as small or large.

The proposal that Murray announced on May 1 was supported by 21 members of the committee–Sawant was one of the dissenters. It creates a complicated process to get Seattle workers to a $15 minimum wage, involving a four-tiered timeline depending on whether workers are employed by a big or small business, and whether they receive health care benefits or tips.

The first two tiers are workers employed by “big businesses,” defined as companies with more than 500 employees. Workers for these businesses who receive health care benefits or tips would have the minimum wage raised over four years to $15 an hour–those who don’t receive health benefits or tips would get to a $15 minimum in three years.

The second two tiers comprise workers employed by “small businesses,” defined by the proposal as companies with less than 500 employees. Workers who get health care benefits or tips would wait seven years–until 2021–before their minimum wage reaches $15 an hour. see their wages raised gradually over 7 years to $15 per hour by 2021. Those who receive no benefits or tips would get to $15 per hour over 5 years.

Once each of the four tiers hit the $15 an hour level, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index, with the tiers of workers that were slowest getting to $15 catching up by 2025, when the minimum wage would be the same for all workers. According to the mayor’s press release, the minimum wage in Seattle at this point would be $18.13 an hour–that assumes an annual inflation rate of 2.4 percent, which some have called overly optimistic.

Immediately after Murray’s announcement, leaders of various labor unions and progressive organizations that are part of the $15 for Seattle coalition lauded the IIAC proposal as a major step forward for the workers of Seattle. Sarah Cherin, policy and political director for United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21, who served on the advisory committee, declared in a press release from 15 for Seattle: “We’re all better off when we’re all better off, and this agreement pushes up the hourly wages of all lower paid workers over time to $15, and then beyond. This is a groundbreaking.”

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CONTRARY TO the reports that circulated in the media and on the Internet, the $15 an hour minimum wage is far from settled by Murray’s announcement–there is not a new minimum wage law in Seattle.

The proposal announced May 1 only represents a deal forged by a committee picked by the mayor himself. Discussion on the City Council has only just begun, nothing has been voted on, and the terms of the plan may still be up for debate. Lobbying by business interests could affect what the Council ultimately votes on (if anything)–and, crucially, so could grassroots pressure from the left.

The Murray plan, if approved as it exists now, would set the highest minimum wage in the U.S. But the proposal does contain many loopholes and compromises desired by business. While it is telling that the Seattle business establishment caved on the central question of accepting a $15 minimum wage, it was successful in getting a number of concessions built into the deal.

The complex nature of the agreement, with its tiers and wage schedules, is problematic in itself. For low-wage workers to understand how much they should be earning per hour will require careful study of their own benefit packages (if any) and knowledge of the size of the company they work for. This could lead to wage theft–and workers may be reluctant to demand what they are entitled to for fear of management reprisal.

Setting a minimum wage based upon total compensation, including benefits, also sets a dangerous precedent. The proposal doesn’t distinguish between employers that provide decent health care benefits and those with bare-bones, low-quality and expensive insurance. Plus, Washington state voters have rejected creating a separate minimum wage for tipped workers several times–the Murray minimum wage proposal could bolster attempts by the Washington Restaurant Association to win such a measure statewide.

Despite the weaknesses of the proposal negotiated by the IIAC, it’s clear that the plan is only on the table because of growing popular sentiment and the pressure created by the movement in Seattle and the election of Sawant. One sign of that sentiment was a poll in February that showed 68 percent of Seattle voters supporting a $15 minimum wage, without any exemptions.

Thus, Sawant began her press conference following Murray’s announcement with the statement: “The proposal that has been announced is a result of the pressure from this movement.” “Unfortunately,” she continued, “it also reflects the attempt of business to water down what the working people of Seattle want. While business has lost the public battle on $15, they were given a seat at the table to pursue their wish list, while low-wage workers were left out.”

Now, supporters of the Fight for 15 are debating the question: Should they accept Murray’s proposal as a victory or reject it as a half-measure and struggle for more?

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THE DEBATE reflects divisions between the union-led $15 for Seattle coalition and 15 Now, the campaign led by Sawant’s organization Socialist Alternative.

Following Sawant’s inauguration in January, she immediately began making good on her campaign promise to campaign for a $15 minimum wage. Initially, 15 Now garnered support from representatives of the King County Labor Council, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, UFCW Local 21 and various progressive organizations. However, as the deliberations of the mayor’s committee progressed, divisions over strategy began to emerge between 15 Now and union leaders.

Some representatives from organized labor on the mayor’s committee argued for a strategy of engaging in the political process as set out by Murray, lobbying City Council members and building broad public support for a $15 minimum wage, but not public mobilizations. By contrast, 15 Now argued for engagement with the mayor’s committee, but keeping a strong focus on building neighborhood action groups, rallies and protests, and preparing a ballot measure for a $15 an hour minimum wage to put before the voters in November.

With no concrete proposals coming out of the mayor’s committee, Sawant announced her proposal to move Seattle toward $15 an hour at a March 15 rally. Her plan would require an immediate $15 minimum wage for businesses with more than 250 employees and a three-year phase-in period for “small businesses” with fewer than 250 workers and all non-profits, regardless of number of employees. Further, Sawant announced that if the IIAC failed to put forward an acceptable proposal, she and 15 Now would seek to put her proposal on the ballot in November, starting with a signature-gathering campaign to qualify the initiative.

Sawant’s announcement rankled leaders of the recently formed 15 for Seattle Coalition. The primary source of the division was a disagreement over the union officials’ more moderate, less-grassroots-driven strategy. But some in the labor movement saw Sawant’s unilateral announcement of a counter-proposal as an example of a “take it or leave it” approach on the part of the 15 Now leadership. Following Sawant’s speech, SEIU-775NW publicly withdrew its endorsement of the 15 Now campaign.

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SINCE FEBRUARY, 15 Now had been building toward a national conference in Seattle on April 26. Organizers said that they hoped to gather 1,300 activists–mainly from Seattle, but also from recently formed 15 Now chapters from across the country–who would give their input on the question of whether to proceed with a ballot measure or not.

In the months before April 26, 15 Now organized 11 neighborhood and campus action groups around Seattle, involving around 120 people. These action groups focused on outreach, building public support for the campaign, and mobilization for 15 Now events, such as the 500 person-strong march and rally on March 15.

On April 14, 15 Now supporters filed a proposed amendment to the Seattle Charter along the same lines as the minimum wage proposal Sawant put forward on March 15. To qualify for the ballot, this Charter Amendment would need approximately 30,000 valid signatures from Seattle voters, which have to be gathered between the end of May and mid-July. 15 Now organizers argued for a goal of 50,000 signatures–as a statement of broad support for the proposal and as a necessary safeguard against signatures being challenged and disqualified under election law restrictions.

The strategy advocated by 15 Now leaders was to use the threat of filing the signatures as pressure tactic to get a better proposal out of the mayor’s committee or the City Council. If an acceptable proposal didn’t emerge, the Charter Amendment would be the fallback plan. Phillip Locker, a 15 Now organizer and spokesperson for Socialist Alternative, told The Stranger newspaper that the amendment would be a “fail-safe mechanism.” “We’re practical people,” he said. “We don’t want to waste our time and energy on a November election if the City Council will pass an adequate $15 minimum wage.”

On April 26, 350 activists gathered for the 15 Now conference. Around 100 to 150 attendees came from outside Seattle, with only 200 to 250 activists from the Seattle area–far short of the organizers’ goal.

The nine-hour meeting was structured around debating a 25-point program put forward by members of Socialist Alternative, along with workshops and a evening plenary featuring Sawant; journalist David Goldstein; Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report; Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party of England and Wales; and Mary Clinton of Occupy Wall Street. Video of the conference has been posted online (morning session, afternoon session and evening session) The 25-point program was debated in a four-hour session in the morning and afternoon.

One major point of debate among activists was a proposal to allow the hotel workers union UNITE HERE to opt out of being covered by the 15 Now Charter Amendment.

UNITE HERE representatives, 15 Now organizers and Kshama Sawant argued that the opt out was necessary, as union workers had agreed to wage concessions in exchange for better health care benefits from employers. Some activists countered that allowing the opt-out would weaken 15 Now’s position against business interests, which had been advocating just such an exemption to the $15 minimum wage for companies that provided health care benefits or workers who received tips. These activists suggested that allowing UNITE HERE a collective bargaining opt-out would undermine the case for no exemptions and open the door to other concessions. Attendees voted 186 to 72 in favor of the UNITE HERE exemption.

Although the conference allowed for open debate and discussion, some activists raised concerns about the democratic process of the 15 Now campaign. The Stranger’s reporter Ansel Herz noted these questions in describing the debate over amendments to the Charter Amendment:

15 Now’s amendment has already been filed with the city clerk, so in effect, they were voting on whether to file a completely new amendment now, which would set them back a few weeks in the signature-gathering process. The prospect of that delay was used as a talking point by speakers against the amendments, which made it feel like the game was rigged against speakers on the other side, though they were given equal time.

In the end, the proposal to proceed with collecting signatures for the Charter Amendment already submitted was approved overwhelmingly. The meeting set a date for mid-July conference to determine at that point whether the signatures should be filed or not.

Other questions about strategy emerged among activists at the conference.

For one thing, using the threat of gathering signatures for a ballot measure as leverage in the debate in the mayor’s committee and the City Council is predicated on that threat being seen as serious. But 15 Now leaders may have cut things too close. Even before the mayor’s May 1 announcement, it was going to be hard for 15 Now to muster enough volunteer labor to gather 50,000 signatures. Now, without the support of the unions that backed Murray’s plan, an activist-led, all-volunteer effort will be even more difficult.

Another consequence of delaying the signature gathering is that potential supporters of the Charter Amendment could be confused by the attitude taken by $15 for Seattle and various progressive organizations–who are celebrating Murray’s announcement as a done deal. Petitioning for the 15 Now Charter Amendment will be harder if we are approaching voters who already think the $15 minimum wage has been won.

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THE CITY Council is set to debate and possibly vote on the Murray’s proposal over the next month. All indications point to most Council members wanting to wrap up the issue quickly since the deal forged by the IIAC, with some measure of business backing, still has the potential to unravel quickly, as The Stranger’s Anna Minard explained:

[W]hile the individual members of the mayor’s committee appeared to represent larger organizations that would be signing on to support a compromise, major players have now said their organization’s members aren’t necessarily on board.

Maud Daudon, president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, abstained from voting on the mayor’s proposal. Kshama Sawant voted no, and the activist group 15 Now has already filed a Charter Amendment that contains her simpler, quicker minimum-wage proposal (it would have big businesses paying a full $15 starting next year). David Watkins of the Seattle Hotel Association and Michael Wells of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce have both signaled that while they voted for this proposal, members of their organizations still have concerns.

Which means that with a little lobbying, this whole thing could fall apart. At the first council meeting on the proposal, council members were already asking about tweaks to the deal that could very well tank the whole thing–like council members Sally Bagshaw and Tom Rasmussen, who brought up “training wages” for teens or entry-level workers, an idea that is popular with business owners and anathema to labor.

Activists from both $15 for Seattle and 15 Now are mobilizing for upcoming City Council hearings to put pressure on council members. With the debate now centered on Murray’s more conservative and qualified proposal, the danger is that the debate could creep even further to the right, with more concessions to business slipped in.

Despite the challenges that 15 Now has encountered with its strategy, activists who want to get to a $15 minimum wage as quickly as possible should demonstrate in favor of the stronger and faster proposal of 15 Now–and keep the pressure up to make sure workers get what they deserve.

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

The tragedy of Odessa

Leaders of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”–which has taken control of government buildings and displaced authorities in a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine–reported that a referendum vote on May 11 showed overwhelming support for autonomy in Ukraine, possibly setting the stage for secession and annexation by Russia.

The vote was the latest episode in Ukraine’s upheaval after the downfall of President Viktor Yanukovych in February, following months of a mass protest movement centered in Kiev’s Maidan Square and radiating out to other cities. After right-wing Ukraine nationalist parties, supported by the U.S. and Europe, took control of parliament, Vladimir Putin’s Russia responded with a military takeover of the Crimean peninsula on the southern edge of Ukraine. A subsequent referendum favored secession, and Putin made the region’s annexation to Russia official with a ceremony in Moscow.

Since last month, pro-Russian armed groups have taken over in a number of cities in eastern Ukraine, and the central government has launched an offensive against them. Sunday’s referendum was scheduled for two weeks before a presidential vote that the ruling parties in Kiev hoped would lend legitimacy to their rule. Meanwhile, skirmishes between the new regime’s security forces and the pro-Russian insurgents in the east continue.

Earlier this month, before the eastern vote, Suhail Ilyas wrote a commentary for the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century website that looked at the dynamics after one of the deadliest eruptions of violence–in the southern Ukraine city of Odessa.

People mourn victims inside the burned-out trade union building in OdessaPeople mourn victims inside the burned-out trade union building in Odessa

MORE THAN 40 people were killed in city of Odessa in southern Ukraine on May 2, following fierce fighting and a deadly fire at the city’s Trade Unions House. Other cities, such as Slavyansk, have also seen lethal clashes. News sources differ on the sequence of events leading to the fire, but footage and photographs of the scene show that the victims died horrific deaths. There were undoubtedly fascists involved in the worst of the attacks, and the police clearly played a role, whether through inaction or by design.

There are many reports scrutinizing the exact details of what happened on that day, but it is important to understand who benefits from this violence. The Russian government can use it as an excuse to escalate their military operations, as can the Ukrainian government and their supporters in the EU and the U.S. Ukraine’s interior minister is claiming that pro-Russian “rebels,” who were the victims in Odessa, started the fire accidentally.

Neither side requires their version of events to be true–they simply need to entrench division and turn popular opinion against the other. In the meantime, the fascists are able to gain support and grow in numbers.

These consequences only deepen the tragedy of the Odessa killings. “Nationalism, both Ukrainian and Russian, is now celebrating over the bones of the young people killed in Odessa,” in the words of Andrei Ishchenko, a member of the Left Opposition in the city. Meanwhile, Russian socialist Ivan Ovsyannikov emphasizes that “we cannot allow the death of these people to be used as a justification for military intervention or further killings.”

The ultimate provocateurs of violence and division across Ukraine, from Sevastopol to Kharkiv, from Donetsk to Odessa, are the competing blocs of imperialists and oligarchs.

The U.S. and EU seek to consolidate the position of the interim government in Kiev, which intends to impose severe austerity measures on the population and suppress any further dissent of the kind that overthrew Yanukovych and provided its leading parties with a chance to take power in the first place.

Russia is expanding into eastern Ukraine, having already seized Crimea. This is of particular concern to Crimean Tatars, some of whom have left the peninsula, and Jews in eastern Ukraine, who are emigrating to Israel in large numbers. Both groups are threatened by pro-Russian forces, which are supposedly “antifascist.” It should go without saying that the spread of Svoboda and Right Sector in Ukraine threatens them also.

Socialists don’t need to choose between imperialists or make apologies for their actions. Opposition to Russian imperialism does not mean support for Western neoliberalism, and it is not a surrender to fascism.

It is a grave mistake to pretend that Russian intervention allows meaningful self-determination for Crimea or eastern Ukraine, or that the actions of the Russian state are in any way anti-fascist. A successful Russian takeover of the east will strengthen Putin’s hand in the oppression of other victims of Russian imperialism, such as in the North Caucasus, as well as against ordinary Russians who will find that dissent is even more fiercely suppressed.

It should be absolutely clear that we stand with the people of Ukraine against their own government and oligarchs, against the machinations of the West, against the growing threat of fascism and against the rising tide of Russian imperialism. There can be no compromise on any of these matters.

First published at the RS21 website.

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

Stand with Cecily McMillan

Cecily McMillan, a leading activist in the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, has been unjustly convicted of felony assault of a police officer who assaulted her during a March 2012 demonstration, when protesters attempted to reoccupy Zuccotti Park, the site of the Occupy encampment.

Police claim that Cecily elbowed an officer in the face during her arrest. But Cecily says she merely reacted when the officer–who was dressed in plain clothes and didn’t identify himself–sexually assaulted her by grabbing her breast from behind. Far from the cop being assaulted, it was Cecily who was brutalized–she suffered a seizure while lying on the sidewalk, while the ring of police around her stood and watched.

Despite video evidence and eyewitness testimony corroborating her side of the story, a jury convicted Cecily of felony assault after a trial where a plainly biased judge tipped the balance for the prosecution. Cecily has been denied bail and now sits in the Rikers Island jail awaiting her sentencing, which could include imprisonment of up to seven years.

In a statement from Rikers, Cecily wrote: “Admittedly, I was shocked by the jury’s verdict on Monday, but was not surprised by the events that followed. An overreaching prosecutor plus a biased judge logically adds up to my being remanded to Rikers. I was prepared then, as I am now, to stand by my convictions and face the consequences of my actions–namely that of refusing to forsake my values and what I know to be true in exchange for my ‘freedom.’”

On May 13, the University Student Senate (USS) at The New School, where Cecily is a graduate student, passed the following statement of support.

Cecily McMillan (Sparrow Media)Cecily McMillan (Sparrow Media)

To all New School students:

On May 5th, a guilty verdict was issued against Cecily McMillan, a New School graduate student, for the crime of defending herself against a violent attack and sexual assault by an unidentified, plainclothes cop at an Occupy Wall Street protest. She faces up to seven years in jail; her attacker, Officer Grantley Bovell, still patrols the streets.

This travesty of justice comes in the context of the systematic police repression against the Occupy Wall Street movement, itself just one manifestation of the ongoing curtailing of our civil liberties by an expanding police state, and a system where the police, including the NYPD, has the increasing right to assault, molest, search and murder with impunity.

Therefore, The New School University Student Senate wishes to announce that it stands in full solidarity with Cecily McMillan and all victims of police repression of dissent. We demand the immediate release of McMillan, and all other political prisoners.

The USS will do all it can to support all those victims of sexual assault at The New School, and demands the end to any toleration of Rape Culture in the NYPD, The New School and the larger society.

The USS calls on all members of The New School community to lend their support to Cecily McMillan, her defense campaign and all victims of police repression and brutality. Please go to her defense campaign’s website to learn more on how you can help Justice for Cecily.

Statement adopted and passed by The New School University Student Senate on May 13, 2014.

Fashion news,Brand Consulting

We all have to be brave

Members of Seattle Clinic Defense make a stand for the right to choose (Leela Yellesetty | SW)Members of Seattle Clinic Defense make a stand for the right to choose (Leela Yellesetty | SW)

FOR THE first time in my life, I gazed out of two large windows in my office and the thought drifted through my mind, “I wonder if these windows are bullet-proof?”

I am a nurse-midwife, and I work for a large system of clinics that provides all kinds of reproductive and primary health care, from birth control to well-woman exams. But we also provide another type of reproductive health service that makes us a target for anti-choice demonstrators: abortion.

I live and practice in a state where nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives and physician’s assistants can be medication abortion providers. I am proud to be an abortion provider and feel grateful to be able to provide this vital service to women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. Medication abortions account for roughly a quarter of all pregnancy terminations in the U.S today after the “abortion pill,” mifepristone (mifeprex), came on the market in the U.S. in 2000.

Recently, the clinics I work for endured what is knows as “40 Days for Life,” a biannual demonstration in which anti-choice activists picket abortion clinics for the 40 days of Lent in the spring, and again in the fall.

But this 40 Days for Life campaign was not my first bout of dealing with protesters. I have been a member of Seattle Clinic Defense for years, and a reproductive justice activist since high school. I had assumed that facing anti-choice protesters as a provider would feel similar to how it did every Saturday morning, when I stood out in front of the clinic.

As a clinic defender, I would have no qualms about biking up to the clinic and using my name loudly when introducing myself. I wouldn’t think twice about driving to the clinic. I was just another activist. They were just some more bigots. I would sip my coffee, chant and sing with my comrades, smile and wave when cars “honked for choice.” I even made a sign one spring while I was still in nursing school: “Nursing students for choice.”

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I STARTED my first job as a midwife a few months before 40 Days for Life began. But that didn’t mean that my clinic didn’t encounter protesters. Somehow, the anti-choicers know which days are in-clinic abortion days, and I was still in my training period when I encountered them for the first time. I had arrived at the clinic before they got there, but I didn’t need to look outside to know that they had arrived.

On in-clinic abortion days, my job is twofold, one medical and one emotional. My first task is generally straightforward: I see women to give them necessary medications before their procedure, talk to them about what to expect, and get them settled with a birth control method for afterward.

My second task, helping a woman through her emotions about the day, is anything but straightforward. The wide range of emotions I see is astounding, and I feel grateful for each woman who shares her story with me. We tell all women that any number of emotions, from sadness to relief, from grief to empowerment, are all normal and expected.

But there is one emotion that creeps into my exam room, which I know would not be there if the anti-choicers were not there.

“I’m scared,” a tearful young woman confides in me.

“Tell me more about what you’re scared of. Is it the procedure, or something else?” I try to coax out the crux of this woman’s feelings.

“I’m scared I’ll hate myself.”

I hear this often.

“What if those people out there are right?”

“Do you think I’m going to hell for this?”

“They said this will hurt for the baby, is that true? Will the baby feel pain?”

I spend the precious few moments I have to try and undo the damage–the self-doubt, self-loathing and slut-shaming that the anti-choicers have rolled into a science.

That first day was emotionally draining, and while I have gotten better at comforting women through these difficult emotions, I have not gotten used to it.

As I left the staff entrance that day, I had completely forgotten that the protesters might still be there. I looked up and saw their giant crosses and posters of “aborted” fetuses and an unexpected shock of fear and intimidation shot through my core.

I stopped dead in my tracks as I locked eyes with an old man who was praying and singing. He watched me walk to my car. I watched him take a photograph of my license plate. I immediately wished I had removed my nametag before exiting the clinic.

I seethed in rage as I drove home. In all my days as a clinic defender, I held a healthy anger in my heart that pushed me and my comrades to stand up to this type of harassment. But that day I felt different. This was personal.

This man, and all those like him were the reason many of my patients sat in puddles of tears in the chair next to mine throughout the day. He was protesting the individual choices of the women that I cared for that day. He was protesting my very existence as an abortion provider. He and those like him were not only there to harass and intimidate the patients and staff–one of his aims, I quickly realized, was to scare me.

After that day, I had a long talk with my partner about driving to the clinic in my easily recognizable car versus biking. My mother, to this day, tells me to leave the clinic with the rest of the staff.

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I WAS unexpectedly shaken up by their presence that day, but I am glad I got to experience it before the onslaught of the 40 days of constant harassment that ensued a few months later.

Every day, I parked my car in a slot right in front of the protesters so a patient wouldn’t have to listen to their shaming lies. Every day, I had patients ask me why the protesters were still there. Every day I had protesters yell after me, “Miss, miss, we can help you! We can save you from doing this work.” Every day, I faced a bundle of little crosses, surely meant to signify graves, that the protesters placed in front of the entrance to the parking lot.

And on every day that I helped women begin the process to terminate a pregnancy they did not want, I tried to undo the damaging lies the anti-choicers hurl at them. I tried to remind her that she’s making this decision because she is the expert about her own life. Because she just had a baby and isn’t ready for another one. Because she fears her abusive partner will never let her leave if she has this child. Because she’s about to go on active duty.

Because she is not ready to be a parent.

The Supreme Court will decide in June whether or not a Massachusetts law creating buffer zones around clinics is constitutional. These buffer zones, the opponents say, infringe on the right of free speech of anti-abortion protesters.

Over the past few decades, the radical anti-choice movement has shifted strategy from one of firebombs and threats (although these still occur with startling regularity) to one of peaceful “sidewalk counselors.” Those who oppose the buffer zones paint the protesters as friendly old ladies, too fragile to hurt a fly and merely concerned about young women and babies.

I and the rest of the clinic staff felt a wide range of emotions over those 40 days. Some days brought bloodcurdling anger due to the miniature grave one protester set up. Some days, we laughed at the fact that they have nothing better to do, and some days, we had patients walk right up to them and cuss them out.

Some days, I would catch one of them taking photographs of my license plate and the plates of other cars in the parking lot, and the fear I felt on that first day would creep back into my bones, unwittingly. One day, a sweet-looking child called me a “baby killer” as I rode past him and his parent as I started my bike commute home.

Not all of the days were painful, though. Some of the most heartening experiences came when we received community support. An older lady brought by flowers and cookies, with a card detailing her knowledge of the years when abortion was illegal.

A few pro-choice clinic defenders stood out in the pouring rain for hours, and we each rotated going out and thanking them for standing up for what we do. That one day sticks out in my mind, because each of our spirits was so lifted, it was as though the heavy blanket of opposition was made lighter, even if just for a moment.

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ONE EVENING in late March, about halfway through the 40 Days for Life protests, I sat with a heavy heart on my commute home one evening. I was listening to the story about how Susan Cahill’s clinic in Montana was vandalized and subsequently closed.

Cahill has been providing family medicine and abortion services in Montana for almost 40 years, and the collective hearts of every abortion provider were broken along with hers that day. Her clinic had been vandalized in a violent manner by the son of one of the founders of a crisis pregnancy center, the so-called “peaceful sidewalk counselors.” The vandal “meticulously destroyed” everything in the office, from exam tables and the ultrasound machine, to art and family photos hanging on the clinic walls.

This act revealed something clarifying about the anti-choice movement today, and something that those of us who work in abortion services know all too well: that there is a thinly veiled cloak of “God’s love” and “saving babies” that is backed with much more sinister propaganda and hate.

The kind of intimidation and harassment the clinic staff and I endure in order to provide a vital, life-saving service should be anything but legal, let alone condoned by the Supreme Court. Moreover, the kind of slut-shaming, judgment and harassment that each and every one of my patients faces while attempting to access health care should not only require a buffer zone but, in my eyes, should be outlawed as hate speech altogether.

I debated whether or not to run this article under my own name and discussed it with my partner, and what writing openly as an abortion provider means for our lives. I am lucky in that I am not targeted personally by the anti-choice attacks. They do not picket my place of worship or my children’s schools, nor put my face on “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters and circulate them throughout my community–all of which have been documented against other providers across the country.

In the end, I knew that I must step forward and make the call to all other abortion providers to speak out against the harassment and intimidation we face in order to do our jobs. I draw immense inspiration in the bravery of Dr. Willie Parker, a physician who flies down to Mississippi twice a month to keep the doors of the state’s last clinic open, and speaks publicly about his work often.

My wish is that we all be as brave–and feel as safe to be as brave–as he is. Not only to counter the narrative of the granny sidewalk counselor, but to shed light on what kind of fighting movement we need to battle back against such an organized, anti-choice, anti-woman movement. To shed light on what kind of harassment these so-called “sidewalk counselors” actually engage in, and to expose their greater political aims: to move the U.S. back to a time when abortion was illegal, an agenda they will try to push through by any means necessary.

We owe it to all the other abortion providers who have been targeted. We owe it to our patients and their families. We owe it to Susan Cahill. We owe it to George Tiller.

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Teachers vote for change in Massachusetts

Barbara MadeloniBarbara Madeloni

HISTORY WAS made at the May 10 annual meeting of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) when delegates opted for change by electing Barbara Madeloni as the union’s next president.

Madeloni, a member of the progressive caucus Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU), defeated Tim Sullivan, the current MTA vice president, by 97 votes in the race for president. The vote reflected growing opposition among teachers and staff to high-stakes testing and punishment, as well as increased enthusiasm among union members to take action in order to defend their schools.

This vote is extremely significant given that the MTA is the largest teachers union in the state, representing all K-12 teachers (except those in Boston), as well as some faculty and staff at various state universities and community colleges.

Madeloni, a former English teacher, is perhaps best known for refusing, along with her students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, to participate in a standardized teacher-licensing program co-developed by Stanford University and testing behemoth Pearson. Her campaign, led by EDU, is part of a growing movement across the country by teacher activists pushing their unions to organize against corporate school reform.

Union opponents of Madeloni’s campaign tried to discredit her run for president as an “outsider’s campaign,” and she was criticized for a supposed lack of experience and insufficient connections to political insiders. But that is precisely what appealed to her supporters.

EDU based its campaign for Madeloni’s presidential bid on the pledge to rebuild an active, member-driven union that is transparent that stands up to the corporate attacks on our schools and our union. For years, the MTA leadership has made concession after concession on issues of teacher evaluations, high-stakes testing and retiree health care benefits.

For many, the last straw was outgoing president Paul Toner’s closed-door deal with Stand for Children, an education policy organization widely known for advocating pro-privatization and anti-union measures, to get rid of seniority benefits in case of mass layoffs. More recently, Toner admitted to meeting regularly with Stand for Children at a professional development event in Framingham, Mass.

In her final campaign speech, Mandeloni described the crucial difference between her EDU-backed presidential bid and the campaign of her opponent Tim Sullivan, who has been MTA vice president for the past four years:

You could choose to vote for the experience of the status quo–even though compared to four years ago, we face more testing, more turnarounds, a demeaning teacher evaluation system, weakened seniority and worse pension benefits. This is what we get when we think power lies in personal access to the political elite–talking to them instead of mobilizing our membership.

When Stand for Children comes back for its next bite out of our union rights, or [when] our political “allies” come after our pensions, and you know they will, do we once again cut an insider deal and declare “it could have been worse”? I don’t think so. We need new leadership with experience–not with things as they have been, but with things as they might be.

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MOST OF the people who voted for Madeloni didn’t cast their votes under the illusion that her election alone would be sufficient to stop the juggernaut of corporate ed “deform.” Rather, her campaign inspired a sense that we can–and must–organize teachers, staff, students and parents across the state to engage in a serious discussion of what kind of action it is going to take to win back our schools.

As Kiely, a special education teacher in Holyoke, Mass., put it: “This new election gives people hope. It gives us more self-confidence to say that is not okay.”

The grassroots organizing efforts of EDU’s campaign were visible throughout the convention. The most confident and vocal contingent of MTA members came from Holyoke, one of the poorest and hardest-hit school districts in the state. Project Grad, a school privatization firm based in Texas, has already taken over one school and part of a second, and instituted a regime of high-stakes testing and evaluations, creating an environment that makes teachers feel they are constantly under threat.

Yet teachers, staff and parents recently won a victory when they took a proud and public stand against “data walls,” which force teachers to publicly humiliate their students by showcasing their scores.

The combination of winning a victory against data walls and their disgust at the methods of Project Grad have persuaded more teachers to get involved in organizing with the union and with EDU. As Kiely explained, “In the past, there would be maybe five people at a union meeting. Now you can’t find a seat. Before you had a union that didn’t speak out.”

Holyoke MTA members talked eloquently about how these school takeovers are negatively impacting the largely poor and immigrant communities that live in the school district.

One teacher was in the midst of explaining the double standard of accountability at public schools and corporate-run turnaround schools when Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick arrived at the MTA event to receive the Presidential Award. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Gov. Patrick studiously avoided addressing such concerns.

To be sure, Madeloni’s victory is just the first step. Most members of the MTA don’t attend the annual convention, nor are they routinely involved in the union. Only 1,200 of the MTA’s 110,000 members took part in the discussions and votes regarding the future of the union.

The essential next step is for teacher activists to continue organizing in our cities and towns in order to involve more teachers, staff, parents and students in the day-to-day struggles to defend quality public education as a right for all.

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The wolf of Crenshaw

The question remains after all the apologies: Why was Sterling tolerated for so long?

AFTER MONTHS of resistance, I finally saw the Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio film The Wolf of Wall Street, and it was everything I feared it would be: a steaming pile of shit that could double as the recruitment video for sociopathic dude-bros eager to enter the dwarf-throwing, woman-shaving, parasitic world of high finance.

Part of making leading character Jordan Belfort vile but also enticing was to ensure that he and his “Merry Men” weren’t presented as open racists. I highly doubt that in the real world, these people were proudly sexist, bigoted and cruel, but drew the line at racial slurs. I think it’s far more likely they wallowed in whatever piggery their bank accounts and attendant arrogance allowed.

The film also made me think a great deal of a different kind of wolf. Maybe not the Wolf of Wall Street, but the Wolf of Crenshaw: Donnie Tokowitz, a.k.a. Donald Sterling. Both made fortunes by decimating the lives of ordinary people because their fortunes acted as societal sanction for their activities. If they were getting rich, then it must be all right.

The difference between Belfort and Sterling is that one wolf made his money looking at numbers flit across a screen and cold-calling anonymous voices. While the other wolf–Donald Sterling–drove around his projects, looked his tenants in the eye and, close enough to smell their breath, treated them like they were less than human because of the color of their skin.

Yet Sterling’s great sin, as we are seeing, is that he couldn’t contain the outlet for his bigotry to the poor. When Donald Sterling left the projects and made his way to the Staples Center, he would also look at his millionaire players, alternately ogle their bodies or curse them, and treat them like they were less than human because of the color of their skin.

Fellow NBA owners, no matter how many people their businesses harm–and new Clippers CEO Richard Parsons has certainly harmed his share–are supposed to leave those hatreds at work and discard them at the locker room door. You are supposed to love your star players and point out that Colin Powell/Condi Rice/Magic Johnson deserve color-blind admiration. (As for how the wealthy see President Obama, that is a more complicated discussion.)

It is here we see Donald Sterling’s cardinal error as a racist. It is not the people harmed on Crenshaw or in East LA. It is the fact that he is, as my Nation colleague Mychal Denzel Smith described, “an impolite racist.” Burying the poor is just business. Hell, Mayor Kevin Johnson–that voice for Sterling justice–has slums. But if you insult Magic Johnson, wealthy white people act like this is their “I am Spartacus” moment.

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FOR THOSE who may have missed it–and it is difficult to wonder how anyone has–Sterling was interviewed by Anderson Cooper and delivered a master class in anti-public relations. People have described this interview as a profile in dementia, but there was nothing, to my eye, off-kilter about Donald Sterling. He was exactly who he has always been: blunt, nasty and animated by his hatreds. Most pointedly, Sterling went after the person he sees as the reason for his troubles, Magic Johnson.

Among many other things, Sterling said of Magic Johnson, “He’s got AIDS. Did he do any business? Did he help anybody in South LA?…What kind of a guy goes to every city and has sex with every girl, and he catches HIV. Is that somebody we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself.”

There was certainly more, but once again, it was specifically the attack on Magic that immediately brought NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to the barricades. Silver said:

I just read a transcript of Donald Sterling’s interview with Anderson Cooper, and while Magic Johnson doesn’t need me to, I feel compelled on behalf of the NBA family to apologize to him that he continues to be dragged into this situation and be degraded by such a malicious and personal attack. The NBA Board of Governors is continuing with its process to remove Mr. Sterling as expeditiously as possible.

And yet, the question still lingers every time Adam Silver issues another apology to Magic Johnson. It lingers as owners find the highest of possible high horses to condemn Sterling’s latest embarrassment. It lingers when former Commissioner David Stern–assumedly from retirement in Colonel Kurtz’s old compound–praises Silver’s actions.

Why was Donald Sterling coddled for so long? Why were all of his words and deeds–deep in racism, rich with misogyny–ignored by the NBA? Kevin Johnson demanded answers to that last week, and then quickly forgot he even asked the question. The answer, unfortunately, can be found in The Wolf of Wall Street, when Jordan Belfort says, “There’s no nobility in poverty. I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.”

As long as the objects of Sterling’s pathologies were the poor, his fellow owners didn’t blink. But mess with Magic, you are now messing with someone in the club. Selective morality: without it, the money just doesn’t get made and the world doesn’t spin. But rarely do we see it open and naked to the world, on such a grand stage as we are with the NBA vs. Donald Sterling.

First published at TheNation.com.

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