New Ground 123
March - April, 2009
Happy 100 Nelson Algren
Some Recent Chicago DSA Activities
123.1 - 04.02.2009
0. DSA News
Working Together for Justice
Commission on Global Financial Issues
Employee Free Choice Act
Wage Theft in America
Worse Than a Messy Divorce
2. Democratic Socialism
More on "Empire"
Nationalisation, Workers Control, and Workers Ownership
123.2 - 04.15.2009
0. DSA News
Working Together for Justice
Beyond the Ballot: the YDS Winter Conference
Rescue the Banks not the Bankers and Shareholders
"But the banks are made of marble with a guard at every
door, and the vaults are stuffed with silver that the workers
Is It a Depression?
Where Did the Money Go?
2. Democratic Socialism
An Agenda for Social Democracy
"A Whole New Kind of Struggle is Emerging"
3. Upcoming Events of Interest
123.3 - 04.25.2009
0. DSA News
Working Together for Justice
Chicago DSA Membership Meeting
May Day Rally and March
The Labor Movement's Framework for Comprehensive Immigration
The Ludlow Massacre
Franklin Rosemont, Surrealist Author, Artist and Activist, 1943-2009
New Fashioned Unions
2. Democratic Socialism
The Bolivarian Revolution: Tragedy,
Farce or Alternative?
You Can't Beat a Living Wage, Strangle It
by Tom Broderick
Around four years ago, Ron Baiman suggested
that Oak Park needed to have a living wage ordinance. Ron is
an economist, and DSA comrade, who worked on the Cook County
and Chicago living wage ordinances. Using a template from the
Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law,
Ron fashioned an ordinance for the Village of Oak Park.
Oak Park has a Board of Trustees made
up of six trustees and a president, all with equal votes. I approached
several members of the board individually, to solicit support.
For something like the living wage ordinance to pass, we would
need a simple majority. I lined up five trustees who said they
would support the ordinance, but for two years, no board member
would introduce the ordinance.
Over those two years, the board was
fractious. Meetings became tedious and full of enmity. At the
next election cycle, all but one of the original five supporters
were gone. Our supporters resigned, chose not to seek reelection,
or were voted out of office.
We decided to try to get a referendum
on last November's ballot seeking a living wage ordinance. With
the help of community members, we got ballot status at a Village
Township meeting in March of 2008. Now we would see if we had
a community that supported an anti-poverty tool that works.
Ron and I began exploring for additional
support beyond our DSA community. The Oak Park Coalition for
Truth and Justice (OPCTJ), the Unity Temple Social Mission Committee
and the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) from Oak Park River
Forest High School joined us.
During the financial problems that were
bubbling around us, the voters of Oak Park endorsed the ordinance
with a 60% "YES" vote. Fifty-four of fifty-eight precincts
voted in favor. So at the first Village Board meeting after the
voters gave their recommendation, Ron and I presented the Board
with copies of the ordinance and the vote tally. Greg Marsey,
the one remaining supporter on the Board clapped. The rest of
the board sat immobile.
As the Board took no action, we went
to the Board meeting on the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated
as our 44th President. We tried to channel the electricity of
the day. Reverend Jean Darling, pastor of the Peoples Church
of Chicago and a resident of Oak Park and Ron Chew, member of
the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago, also a resident of Oak
Park, joined Ron and myself. We spoke to the dignity of work
and workers and asked the Board to act in the spirit of change
and hope and vote for a living wage ordinance. We noted that
Oak Park prides itself in being a progressive community and that
Chicago and Cook County already have Living Wage Ordinances as
do at least 140 other localities in the US (as of 2006). We also
said we would make the issue an election issue in the upcoming
The Board punted. On January 30th, I
received an email from John Murtagh. He is the chair of the Oak
Park Community Relations Commission (CRC). His email stated that
"the Oak Park Village Board requested that the CRC conduct
a review of Living Wage issues and prepare a recommendation for
the full board's review."
Ron and I attended the meeting of the
CRC on Feb. 18th. Before the meeting started, John Murtagh told
me that this was the first "meat and potatoes" issue
the Commission had had to deal with in a long time. Murtagh presented
the Board's "charge" and said that the CRC should be
objective and nonpartisan. Every time a Commission member voiced
what sounded like support (for example, that 60% of the voters
had approved the referendum so that should give the Commission
some direction) Murtagh would stop the proceedings.
He had no problem presenting his version
of doom and gloom: job loss, for example. I got the impression
that several members of the Commission were enjoying themselves
as Murtagh would get red-faced in reaction to something someone
Out of the meeting, a subcommittee was
formed to do the necessary research to resolve the Board's charge.
Given his apparent hostility to the living wage ordinance, I'm
glad that Murtagh decided against joining this subcommittee.
He did question whether or not they were up to the task, which
seemed a negative way to deal with his fellow Commission members.
Subsequently, he sent an email to the
Commission members pointing out that while the ordinance received
a 60% "Yes" vote, Obama received an 84.3% "Yes"
vote in Oak Park. He felt it important to consider this vote
difference. Bamshad Mobasher, one of the Commission members,
wrote back that all that told us was that Obama was more popular
than a living wage ordinance and that Obama was probably more
popular than any other candidate on the ballot.
I also checked and discovered that 2,505
more votes were cast for a Presidential choice than were cast
for, or against the Living Wage Ordinance, which is nearly an
8.6% vote difference there.
We will continue to attend the CRC meetings
and supply information. We will continue doing outreach. The
UTSMC is going to ask the entire congregation to endorse the
ordinance. We are trying to get help from ARISE, which is the
Chicago chapter of Interfaith Workers Justice. We see no reason
to allow a governmental body to exploit workers.
Choice Is Just That
by Tom Broderick
H.R. 800 is known as the "Employee
Free Choice Act of 2007" (EFCA). It starts out:
"To amend the National
Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable
employees to form, join or assist labor organizations, to provide
for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing
efforts, and for other purposes."
The bill has passed the House. The Senate
must act and then it goes to the White House. President Obama
pledged to support the EFCA when he was a candidate for President
of the United States. The labor movement spent hundreds of millions
of dollars, and provided volunteers across the country to change
the political landscape during the last election cycle. If Obama
waffles or worse, promotes "bipartisan" change to the
bill, we must fight back.
This amendment is about enabling employees.
It has no carrot for employers and employers are dedicated to
defeat it. One of the founders of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus,
during a conference call among CEOs, lamented that passage of
the EFCA would bring the demise of civilization. Lions and Tigers
and Bears, Oh My!
Bank of America hosted the conference
call. This is same bank that was forced to pay the salaries,
severance and vacation pay to the United Electrical workers who
occupied the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago late
last year. Workers standing up for their rights created this
victory. I got one email from friends in Spain and another from
a Peace Corp Volunteer in Mauritania cheering on the UE workers.
The occupation was global news and the victory is a model.
EFCA has three main components. Section
2 is titled Streamlining Union Certification. The basic
change is that when 50% + 1 of employees within a "unit"
wish to be represented by a labor organization, the National
Labor Relations Board (NLRB) shall investigate the petition.
If the Board finds that the petitions are valid and that no other
group is currently recognized as the exclusive representative
of the employees the Board will certify the labor organization
as the representative of the employees.
This changes the dynamic. Currently,
the employers can call for an election. If the EFCA is passed,
the employees decide whether an election to validate their wishes
is needed, or if the 50% + 1 "card check" is a true
representation of their choice. Certification becomes the employees'
right, not the employers.
Although employers decry this change
as the end of democracy in the workplace, they are lying. There
is no democracy in the workplace. Employers like the election
process because they control the workplace.
Mandatory company meetings used to skewer
unionization -- Employer privilege. Firing pro-union employees
-- Employer privilege, even if illegal, because the penalties
are cotton candy. Threats of job loss, workplace closing, workplace
relocation and other forms of retaliation -- Employer privilege,
even if lies. Hysteria, threats and lies are fundamental to anti-union
Workers supporting unionization are
harassed. The current process is sport for employers and workers
are skeet. Employers hire anti-union professionals, including
law firms, with entire sections dedicated to defeating unionization.
Employers would call these people thugs, if employed by unions.
By changing the process to allow workers
to decide whether a card check or an election is what is necessary
to secure their rights, the EFCA returns the right of forming
or joining labor organizations to the workers. The employers
get no say. That's what labor rights are about.
At the Conservative Political Action
Conference in February, Newt Gingrich had this to say about the
EFCA: "This bill is a mortal threat to American freedom
and we will never forgive somebody who votes for cloture or for
The next section is titled Facilitating
Initial Collective Bargaining Agreements. This section sets
a timeline and a procedure for giving the employees the representation
they have chosen. It has three parts.
The first says that within ten days
of receiving notice from a certified employee representative,
employees and employers must meet and commence collective bargaining.
They must also make every "reasonable effort to conclude
and sign a collective bargaining agreement." There is a
caveat that both sides can agree on a different time frame.
The second says that if after 90 days
(same caveat as above), the employees and the employers have
failed to come to an agreement, they "may notify the
Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service of the existence
of a dispute and request mediation." At this point,
the Service must promptly do what it can to bring both parties
The third says that if 30 days after
the request for mediation (same caveat listed above), the Service
cannot bring an agreement, the Service will refer the dispute
to an arbitration board. "The arbitration panel shall
render a decision settling the dispute and such decisions shall
be binding upon both parties for a period of two years."
This process is only applicable to the
first contract agreement, meaning that employers will be free
to bargain in bad faith and draw out "negotiations"
during subsequent negotiations. So, even if the EFCA is passed
and signed into law, as is, the labor movement has won only one
important victory: bringing the right to organize back to workers
A labor lawyer I spoke with says the
provision of binding arbitration will be immediately challenged
in the courts. The judicial system gave employers the right to
interfere in what was a workers' process initially. The courts
determined that employers had their free speech denied when not
allowed to bully employees and their right to unionize. And yet
the courts say I cannot yell "FIRE" in a crowded
Recently, I was listening to a radio
program discussing the civil rights movement of the 1960s. During
the program, some young African Americans voiced that there was
no struggle like that one today.
Wrong. There are struggles aplenty,
and no less important. We've experienced decades of wealth transfer
from the poor, the working class and the middle class to the
rich. We've experienced growth in productivity without income
growth except for the wealthy. What was substituted for wages
and benefits was the ability to borrow with compound interest.
We were allowed / forced to shop at the "company store."
We were led into debt.
What we aren't seeing is the street
action that was such a visible and vital part of the civil rights
movement. In the case of the EFCA, beyond spending money, worker
actions may be necessary. Keep the UE action at Republic Windows
and Doors in mind.
The labor movement is a much-weakened
force. It doesn't have the deep pockets of corporations. Neither
can labor trump corporate ownership of media. What labor does
have are people who are being screwed -- both inside and outside
organized labor. Energizing that entire base is crucial. If we
can't win real rights for workers under the Obama administration,
with someone like Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor, then the
labor movement might as well give up on the Democratic Party
The final section deals with enforcement.
It's entitled: Strengthening Enforcement. Justice relies
on enforcement. This section details remedies for violations.
One plus in the amendment is that instead of simply providing
only back pay to workers who have been discriminated against
(fired, for example), the employer would have to also kick in
two times that amount in damages.
And finally, any employer who "willfully
or repeatedly commits any unfair labor practice . . . shall,
in addition to any make-whole remedy ordered, be subject to a
civil penalty not to exceed $20,000 for each violation."
I may be missing it in my reading, but
it would also be important to get the reinstatement of any workers
who have been mistreated in any way during a union drive. The
timeline in dealing with violations is shortened. Getting workers
immediately back on the job would be a visible victory.
Still, passage of the EFCA is no panacea.
Permanent worker replacement will remain legal. Secondary boycotts
will remain prohibited. Currently some unions are negotiating
contracts that include "no strike" clauses and others
are negotiating contracts that call for ignoring the picket lines
of other unions. There is no strength in these scenarios. Neither
is there worker strength when unions negotiate contracts with
employers behind the backs of workers. It's possible that the
EFCA could curtail this action as well. After all, with the EFCA,
workers would have the right of certification.
Passing the EFCA is critical, but we
need to do more to create a vital and democratic labor movement.
This is a big civil rights movement: the right of workers to
better their lives collectively and democratically. This will
take solidarity, brains, and the kind of courageous action we
saw exhibited by the United Electrical Workers at Republic Windows
Editor's Note: The EFCA has been
re-introduced in the current Congress but not all Illinois Democrats
are on board. In any case, all Representatives and Senators need
to hear from EFCA supporters. Call or write their offices or
go to http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/freechoiceact_intro09/
an Abolition Bill in the Illinois State Legislature. Comrades,
Let's Rock the House.
by Tom Broderick
The death penalty is an act of violence
used primarily as a prosecutorial tool. It is inhumane as well
as fiscally irresponsible. Large amounts of money that would
be better spent on crime intervention and prevention, substance
abuse and mental health programs and assistance to victims of
crime are diverted to snuffing life.
Representative Karen Yarbrough (D-7)
recently introduced HB 262 in the Illinois General Assembly.
This bill takes our existing criminal code and removes the penalty
of death from all crimes. If passed by our Legislature, Illinois
could become one more abolitionist state.
Originally, it was sent to the Judiciary
II Criminal Law Committee. Committees are often burial grounds
for bills. To get out of Committee a majority of the members
would need to vote to send the bill to the floor of the House.
This Committee has four Democrats and three Republicans. Three
of the Democrats are cosponsors of HB262. The fourth Democrat,
Emily McAsey (D-85) is a former Will County state prosecutor
who supports the death penalty, as do all three Republicans.
Not a good scenario.
On Thursday, March 5th, a "substitution"
was made in the Committee. Rep. McCasey was "substituted"
and Rep. Karen Yarbrough, the bill's sponsor, became a Committee
member. The bill was passed out of Committee. This substitution
would need the backing of the House Democratic leadership. Now,
we need to thank and encourage the cosponsors and put pressure
on all other House members. Pressure must also be applied to
As of this writing, the additional cosponsors
are Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25), Arthur L. Turner (D-9), Harry
Osterman (D-14), LaShawn K. Ford (D-8), Deborah Mell (D-40),
Esther Golar (D-6), Julie Hamos (D-18), Constance A. Howard (D-34),
Al Riley (D-38), Deborah L. Graham (D-78), Jehan A. Gordan (D-92),
Annazette Collins (D-10), Mary E. Flowers (D-31), Cynthia Soto
(D-28) and Robert Rita (D-28).
An effort was made to find a Republican
cosponsor but without success.
If you recognize any of the above as
your Representative, take time to thank them for their leadership.
If your Representative is not listed, give them a call and tell
them you would like their support for HB262, the bill to abolish
the death penalty. It's likely that between the time I write
and the time you get this newsletter others will have added their
names as cosponsors.
Once you have spoken with them, call
the Chicago DSA office (773.384.0327) and let us know who you
are, who your Representative is and what response you got. Chicago
DSA is working with the Illinois
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (www.icadp.org) to
halt this hate crime. As a resident of Oak Park, it's a pleasure
to report that both of our Representatives (Ford and Graham)
were quick cosponsors.
Nationally, abolition activity is high.
In 2007, New Jersey became the first state to legislatively abolish
the death penalty since it was reinstated in 1976. By declaring
the process unconstitutional, the New York Supreme Court abolished
the death penalty in that state in 2004.
Bills to end capital punishment have
been introduced in at least eight other states: Nebraska, Colorado,
Montana, New Hampshire, Maryland, Washington, Kansas and New
Mexico. In New Mexico the House voted to abolish the death penalty
and sent the bill to the Senate. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson
has indicated that he is considering signing the bill because
of miscarriages of justice and high costs.
The motivating factor behind many, if
not all, of these bills is the extraordinary costs involved in
pursuing an execution. Legislators, Governors and state commissions
on capital punishment are experiencing the financial pain involved
in trying capital cases. Moral concerns may be muffled, but the
pinched pocket book does cause reaction.
Like Illinois, many states have not
carried out executions in years. People are condemned. They are
put on death row. They are warehoused.
Our state has an official moratorium
on executions, enacted by then Governor George Ryan in 2000.
As a State Legislator, Ryan supported the death penalty. As Governor,
he was responsible for signing off on executions. Andrew Kokoraleis,
who was executed on March 17, 1999, was the only person put to
death by Ryan. That responsibility troubled him, and doubt led
him to question the fairness of the system.
Ryan eventually recognized that capital
punishment is not justice. Just before leaving office in 2003,
Ryan emptied death row. He pardoned four men who had been tortured
into confessing to crimes they did not commit. He then commuted
the sentences of 167 men and women to life without possibility
of parole or in some few cases to finite terms.
Illinois has condemned nearly 300 people
to death since the reinstatement of the death penalty. Eighteen
have been exonerated. This is a 6% failure rate for our justice
system, the highest among states that seek execution. Illinois
is the worst of the worst when it comes to condemning the innocent.
It's been ten years since Illinois carried
out an execution and the current Democratic Governor, Pat Quinn,
says he has no plan to end the moratorium. But the moratorium
exists at the Governor's whim. During our last gubernatorial
election, the Republican candidate, Judy Baar Topinka, said she
supported ending it.
California, Maryland and Delaware have
de facto moratoria. Nebraska has no legal method of execution.
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that electrocution is unconstitutional
and no alternative has been approved.
Fourteen states, along with the District
of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, have no death
penalty. The states are: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode
Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
So far this year, there have been fifteen
executions in the United States. All have been men in southern
states. Texas has put eight to death; Alabama two; and Oklahoma,
Tennessee, Florida, Virginia and South Carolina one each. Right
now fifteen men are on death row in Illinois. Until we get rid
of the abomination, more will join them. With your help, we can
abolish this beast.