New Ground 124
May - June, 2009
Against Widening the War
Chicago DSA Meetings
Anniversary of Infamy
New New Deal: Making It Happen
124.1 - 05.30.2009
0. DSA News
Chicago DSA Membership Convention
The Case for Public Universal Health Care
The Only Road Out
Anniversary of Infamy
Illegal Aliens? What About Illegal Corporations?
Hyde Park Rebels: Leon Despres and Sam
A Small Comment on a Big Con
2. Democratic Socialism
No Marx Without Engels
3. Upcoming Events of Interest
124.2 - 06.16.2009
0. DSA News
51st Annual Debs - Thomas - Harrington
Annual Membership Convention
A New New Deal: What Would It Look Like?
Too Poor to Make the News
2. Upcoming Events of Interest
124.3 - 07.01.2009
0. DSA News
On the Struggle for Universal Health
DSA Statement on the Israeli - Palestinian Conflict and Winning
Peace with Justice in the Middle East
Shock and Audit
Economic Piracy: It's Not Just the Coast of Somalia
Coalition of Immokalee Workers v Chipotle
Wells Fargo Is a Roadblock to Recovery
3. Democratic Socialism
Fire the Boss
Adam Smith and Karl Marx
Michael Harrington: Warrior on Poverty
Is the New Deal Socialism?
Why I Am a Socialist
4. Upcoming Events of Interest
Together for Justice
by Bob Roman
"Working Together for Justice"
was the theme of the 51st
Annual Eugene V. Debs Norman Thomas Michael Harrington Dinner.
In keeping with the tradition of these events, it brought together
a broad cross-section of Chicago's left to honor two individuals,
Timuel Black and Jane Ramsey, who have spent their lives working
for social justice and building coalitions as a means of doing
so. The Dinner was held on Friday evening, May 1st, the international
Workers' Day, at the Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro hotel in Chicago's
The Dinner Committee had been talking
about Timuel Black for the past several years. Apart from being
a member of DSA, he's an interesting person, having been involved,
one way or another, in what seems like every other fight for
justice in Chicago for the past 70 years or so. Often enough
these were not particularly public roles, such as when he organized
Chicago's participation in the 1963 March on Washington: some
3000 people on two "Freedom Trains". Though sometimes
they were specifically public, as when he ran for alderman against
Claude Holman. The cumulative effect is that if you are on the
left in Chicago and involved in politics in any serious way,
you know the name Tim Black if not the person. The award was
presented to Tim Black by Clarice Durham, a chum from high school
and every bit as much a political activist as he.
Jane Ramsey was the perfect compliment
to Timuel Black, or perhaps Tim Black was to Jane Ramsey. Jane
Ramsey is the Executive Director of the
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), a position she's
occupied for some 30 years, apart from a tour of duty as Mayor
Harold Washington's Director of Community Relations. More than
many other similar organizations, JCUA has been active in building
coalitions for social justice. For JCUA, it's not so much a mode
of operation or strategy or tactic as part of the organization's
genetics. It's what they do. And they've applied this to issues
as diverse as housing (including gentrification and homelessness),
civil liberties, opposition to racism, labor rights, and immigrant
rights. Most notably, JCUA has been involved in defending immigrant
rights in the notorious Postville, Iowa, immigration raid, and
they've been active in supporting the Congress Hotel strike.
The award was presented to Jane Ramsey by Sidney Hollander: DSA
member, past President and current board member of JCUA.
As an aside, note that one of the founders
of JCUA and its earliest Executive Director was the late Milt
Cohen. Milt Cohen was also a Co-Chair of Chicago DSA in the late
1980s and early 1990s. He was an honoree at the 1989
Thomas Debs Dinner, and that award was presented to him by
Our Master of Ceremonies this year was
DSA National Director, Frank Llewellyn. We felt it was especially
important that he have that role this year as the DSA National
Convention will be in Evanston, Illinois, in November. In addition
to pitching the National Convention to the Dinner attendees,
he provided them with a summary of what DSA has been doing on
the national level.
Kim Bobo, the Executive Director of
Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ),
was to be our featured speaker. Due to a family emergency, she
had to cancel all her appearances that week, including the Dinner.
But she nominated, and we accepted, the Reverend C.J. Hawking
as her replacement. C.J. Hawking is the Director of the local
affiliate of IWJ, Arise Chicago.
Some of you with longer memories will remember the role she played
in support of the striking workers at A.E. Staley in Decatur.
Indeed, she has co-authored (with Steven Ashby, her husband,
who she met through the strike) a book on the strike, Staley:
the Fight for a New American Labor Movement. (See http://www.staleybook.org
C.J. Hawking spoke mostly about the
work of Arise Chicago. In particular, she focused on the efforts
of Arise Chicago, in conjunction with workers centers, to expose
and recover wages stolen from workers by their employers. These
are not just employers with their thumb on the scale. It's frequently
quite blatant: hours worked off the books, sub-minimum wages,
etc. Like all robberies, sometimes it's an act of desperation
by a marginal enterprise. But often enough it's done simply because
it can be done with no consequences. There is effectively no
wages and hours enforcement, until and unless a group like Arise
Chicago intervenes. C.J. Hawking provided examples of victories
that often resulted in workers collecting considerable sums of
The tradition of doing a "Debs
Day Dinner" started very much as a fundraising exercise
in the days of the old Socialist Party of America. It was very
much like the Jackson Day dinners held by Democratic Party organizations
or Lincoln Day dinners held by Republicans. This Dinner, today,
still accounts for a large majority of Chicago DSA's income.
But its purpose has long since ceased to be just money. If it
were just money, the ticket prices would be about double what
they are. The Dinner is also an educational event, through speakers
such as C.J. Hawking. The Dinner is a networking event, where
people can trade ideas and make connections. It's an outreach
event for those with left politics but unfamiliar with democratic
And it's also a social event where people
are reminded that they are not alone in the struggle for justice.
We hope that message, and our appreciation, is heard by those
that we honor.
Economics of a Living Wage
by Bill Barclay
Introduction: Living Wage Ordinances
and Their Roots
Living wage ordinances have now been
implemented in well over 100 cities and towns in the U.S. In
fact, over 40% of all residents of cities with 100,000 or more
people live in places that have enacted such ordinances. The
ordinances and the movement behind them are driven by the decline
in the real (inflation adjusted) value of the minimum wage, the
stagnation in real family incomes over the past three decades
and the dramatic unprecedented increase in income
inequality during this same period. There have been a lot of
numbers used to describe this inequality but perhaps be best
is the following: if the employees' wages had increased as rapidly
as the average compensation of CEOs at the largest companies,
on average employees would now be making over $200,000. Obviously
they are not. Thus efforts to pass living wage ordinances are
part of the larger fight against growing inequality and thus
a living wage is best defined as a wage floor high enough
to allow a full time worker to support of a family.
The Arguments of Opponents
For many, maybe most, of those reading
this article the very fact of the extreme inequality in U.S.
incomes may be sufficient to justify a living wage ordinance.
However, when we talk with others, including many elected municipal
representatives, we often find that, not only are they are not
persuaded by our moral arguments; they seem to approach the question
from a very different framework. It is useful to determine what
that framework is and then to determine how we can respond to
them arguments that flow from it.
Opponents of living wage ordinances
usually make three interconnected arguments; sometimes these
are explicit and at other times they underlie more general expressions
of opposition to enacting a living wage. These arguments can
be summarized in the following propositions:
- In a market economy workers received
in salary the value of what they produce, they are paid what
they are worth;
- Increasing the price of a good
in this case, labor will reduce the demand for the good;
- Capital businesses is mobile
and will move away from municipalities that enact living wage
ordinances and avoid them in the future.
The outcome of these three propositions
appears to be that living wage ordinances will end up hurting
the very people they are intended to help. Low-wage workers will
be laid off and the businesses that employ them will leave the
community, further reducing opportunities for those at the lower
end of the income scale. The further irony is that these arguments
are commonly made by people who otherwise exhibit little concern
about inequality or the financial problems facing low-wage workers.
All of a sudden they become their champions certainly a
very frustrating state of affairs for most of us.
From a market fundamentalist perspective
these are incontrovertible statements. And it is such a perspective
that has dominated U.S. political discourse over the past several
years. However, it is essential to realize that these are predictions,
based upon a particular model of the economy, and their accuracy
must be tested against reality. Fortunately, from the experience
of the more than 100 living wage ordinances in place, we have
a lot of reality against which to test these predictions.
The Evidence of Experience
It is worth beginning by noting that
these propositions are very similar to those made by opponents
of minimum wage increases (or even the existence of a minimum
wage). In this case, however, economists have largely moved beyond
these extreme predictions and are now arguing over whether the
employment impact of an increase in the minimum is zero, modestly
positive or slightly negative. Political discussion has lagged
Of course, living wage ordinances are
different in two important ways from minimum wage increases.
First, living wages are normally set much higher that minimum
wages. This has ranged from New Orleans' 19% increase over the
state's minimum wage to Santa Jose's 117% increase over California's
minimum wage. Second, living wage ordinances impact a relatively
small portion of a municipality's labor force, almost always
less than 5%. In addition, living wage ordinances are not homogeneous,
various communities have fashioned their own with the result
that there are significant differences in their scope and financial
In comparing the experience with living
wage with the predictions outlined above, it is useful to consider
three dimensions. First, how have covered firms responded to
living wage ordinances, e.g. have they laid off workers,
relocated to other venues, or absorbed the wage increases internally?
Second, what has been the impact on the cost of services provided
to municipalities by covered firms, i.e. have taxpayers
faced increased costs? Finally, has the existence of a living
wage ordinance reduced competition in bidding to provide services
to municipalities, also perhaps increasing costs to the municipality?
There are a variety of ways that firms
can respond to mandated wage increases and these include more
than simply laying off employees or relocating. However, the
first point to make from the several studies of living wages
is that there is no evidence of layoffs or declines in employment
by covered firms. Put another way, in the case of living wages
as in that of minimum wages increases, the dire predictions of
opponents have not been realized. In fact, in some cases, such
as Boston, employment has actually grown faster in the covered
firms than among non-covered firms. Although this may seem counterintuitive,
at least from the perspective of the market fundamentalist propositions
described above, it reflects the reality of the small impact
on firm revenues that living wages involve and the use of other
options. Most living wages represent 2 3% (or less) of
the revenues at covered firms, not an amount significant enough
to generate layoffs.
The outlier in this respect is Santa
Monica CA where the living wage impact on hotel and restaurant
businesses represented 10% of total revenues. However, even here,
firms did not layoff workers or relocate because of the "tourist
destination" character of Santa Monica; businesses wanted
very much to remain in the city. Relocation has been virtually
non-existent in response to living wage ordinances, largely because
these ordinances are designed to cover work performed under contract
to the municipality without regard to where the contracting firm
So how have covered businesses responded
to living wage ordinances? Largely through one of three methods:
increasing prices, improving productivity, and accepting an internal
income redistribution. Price increases, where they occurred,
have been quite limited. Los Angeles experience the largest one.
But it amounted to only 0.2% of the city's budget, probably a
large dollar figure but a de minimus amount for any individual
taxpayer. Most of the impact of living wage ordinances has been
absorbed by increasing productivity at the covered firm level.
This has occurred in two ways. First, firms have looked carefully
at the way in which work is organized and made changes that enhance
efficiency. Second, employee behavior has also increased productivity,
both because of increased morale and because of significantly
reduced turnover in what are now much better paying jobs. In
turnover in covered firms decreased from 80% to 20%, a significant
cost savings for the firms.
What about the cost charged for outsourced
services? After implementation of living wage ordinances the
outcome has ranged from declines in real terms (i.e. cost
increases less than the rate of inflation) in Boston, Baltimore
(the city with the longest experience with a living wage ordinance),
Dane County WI, and New Haven to an increase of 33.4% is Hartford
CT. Hartford is definitely an outlier (the next largest increase
was 9.1% in Corvallis OR). On further analysis look it appears
likely that the city's methodology for contract bidding was probably
the major cause of this increase in service costs: Hartford accepted
bids on a per hour cost basis with no caps on the amount of hours
to be utilized.
Finally, there has been little if any
impact on the level of competition in bidding for municipal contracts.
One interesting, and perhaps unanticipated outcome, however is
the possibility that living wage ordinances may force firms to
bid more on quality of service provided rather than engaging
in a race to the bottom by reducing employees' wages. Because
the floor wager is set by the living wage ordinance, firms cannot
simply undercut competitors by reducing wages and benefits.
In sum, the evidence from actually experience
with living wages in a large number of cities of varying sizes
contradicts the market fundamentalist propositions outlined above.
Instead, a living wage ordinance is a viable approach to lessening
the inequality of a number of workers without imposing undue
burdens on others.
A last point may be worth noting here.
Some argue that, while living wage ordinances maybe sometimes
desirable, now is not the time to enact one because of the depressed
economy. This, it seems to me, is exactly backwards. Firms find
the assured income stream from government contracts desirable,
and especially so in these difficult times. Living wage ordinances
will not change that perception, so now is the best time
* The draft
living wage ordinance proposed for Oak Park's is on the broader
end of the continuum. It would include all three categories of
workers: those who work directly for the Village of Oak Park,
those who work for firms contracting with the Village to provide
services, and those who work for firms that receive economic
development subsidies from the Village. Its mandated living wage
level of $14.84/hr represents an 85.5% increment over the Illinois
minimum wage of $8.00/hr.
Despres: 1908 - 2009
by Bob Roman
A life of one century has a lot of room.
Leon Despres was a lawyer. He represented clients in the labor
movement and clients facing issues of civil rights and civil
liberties. (From 1979, he was in partnership with Tom Geoghegan.)
He was, for many years, very much a movement lawyer. Despres
was a Chicago alderman, representing the 5th ward in Hyde Park.
He was for many years the lone alderman in opposition to Daley
the Elder and the Democratic machine in the Chicago City Council.
It was a joke but no joke that one could tell the boundaries
of the 5th ward by the sudden abundance of potholes in the city
streets. City services back then were apportioned on the basis
of loyalty and clout. Despres was an activist who helped organize
a rally in protest against the massacre of striking Republic
Steel workers in 1938, who helped organize cooperatives, who
spoke at rallies and demonstrations.
Leon Despres was never a member of DSA
or the New American Movement or the Democratic Socialist Organizing
Committee. I don't know if he was ever a member of the old Socialist
Party of America . But he did have a long and intimate relationship
with the Debs - Thomas - Harrington Dinner.
Most typically Leon Despres served as
the Master of Ceremonies, also referred to as "Toastmaster"
in earlier years. Despres was good at this role. He was funny,
organized, articulate, and he very much presided over the event.
The last year he presided over the Dinner was in 1998. I recall
that he was delighted to be asked. It was obvious that he knew
very well what he was doing; his professionalism was thrilling.
But it also seemed apparent that he was no longer performing
up to his old standards. And his standards were high. Despres
served as the Master of Ceremonies in 1968,
In 1962, prior to the Dinner being an
awards event, Leon Despres was a featured speaker at the Dinner,
sharing the event with author Harry Golden.
Despres was the honoree at the 1975
Norman Thomas - Eugene V. Debs Dinner. The text of the award
is below. The speaker that evening was Joseph Rauh, a noted civil
rights and labor attorney on the national scene, and a founder
of the Americans for Democratic Action. See www.chicagodsa/d1975
for more photos.
Come the 21st Century, Depres' involvement
with the Dinner dwindled. But he was always willing to advise
us when asked.
Leon M. Despres
For your steadfast refusal to abandon your
high principles in an age of cynicism and accommodation;
For your relentless insistence that the
public domain is not the province of the few;
For your selfless attacks against those
who would betray the public trust for their private gain;
For your tireless endeavors as attorney
and advisor to advance the interests of working men and working
For your leadership in the battle to secure
civil rights and civil liberties for all people;
For your fearless independence in attacking
injustice wherever it might exist;
For the inspiration you have provided to
thousands who might otherwise have despaired of our ability to
direct our own lives;
The Norman Thomas Eugene V. Debs
Dinner Committee does hereby proudly present you with its award
this 4th Day of May in the year 1975.
Day in Chicago
by Tom Broderick
The March 10th Committee pulled off
a small but joyous celebration of the international day of the
working class: May Day. Chicago is the birthplace of the holiday,
but it remains an unofficial one in our nation. Participation
is by those who claim the day.
On May Day, just three years ago, our
country erupted with immigrant rights marches across the nation
to gain the rights and dignity of all who work to live. Labor
laws in the United States do not allow undocumented workers to
be abused by employers. On the books our labor laws protect all
workers equally, but labor law enforcement seems to regularly
protect employers over employees.
In the 2006 Chicago May Day march, more
than half a million people took to the streets and flags from
many countries were flying. In this 2009 march, I'd guess there
were about 3,000 participants, but I did see flags from Brazil,
Poland, Korea, Palestine, Puerto Rico, Mexico and the United
States of America. And of course the rally and parade offered
a great opportunity to catch up with how friends and comrades
During the march, a group of Asians
provided music, as did some black-clad youth. This latter group
included musicians and dancers wearing intricate masks and they
spiced up the parade. As we walked through sections of the street
where buildings rose up on both sides, the ruckus level was purposely
The United Electrical Workers were at
the head of the march, in recognition of their successful sit-down
strike at Republic Windows and Doors. UNITE-HERE, AFSCME, SEIU,
National Nurses Organizing Committee and Teamsters had sign carriers.
Other groups with identifying signs,
banners or flags, included The Green Party, ARISE Chicago, Gay
Liberation Network, International Socialist Organization, and
the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center. Action Now
Illinois, in their bright blue t-shirts cheered from the sidewalk
as we neared Federal Plaza.
I had to get to the Chicago DSA office
to get ready for our annual Debs ~ Thomas ~ Harrington Awards
Dinner, so I did not hear any of the speakers at the Plaza. But
I'll put in a brief thought: As long as capital is free to roam
the world in search of greater capital, no worker should be denied
the same right. Capital should serve humanity, not the other
We need to dump trade agreements that
are not fair trade focused and environmentally sound. We need
single payer health care for all. We need labor laws that favor
the worker and we need them enforced. We need living wages with
no unemployment. We need to beat swords and missiles into plowshares
and wind turbines. Let's get back to that old demand: Eight hours
for work ~ eight hours for rest ~ eight hours for what we will.
compiled by Bob Roman
Against Widening the War
United for Peace and Justice is circulating
a sign-on letter directed at the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional
Black Caucus. The Chicago DSA Executive Committee decided, via
email, to add Chicago DSA to the list. The letter calls upon
the caucuses to exercise "leadership to help reverse the
downward spiral of the security situation in Afghanistan is urgently
required. We urge you to oppose the expansion of the war in Afghanistan;
require the Obama administration to present and implement an
exit strategy; and to press for a greater investment in Afghan-led
development efforts and regional diplomacy to stabilize the country."
The letter calls upon Congress to restructure
the Obama Administration's supplemental spending request in several
- "Require the administration to
set a date certain for withdrawal.
- "Prohibit any further Predator
and other missile strikes and aerial bombing likely to result
in civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- "Approve the $7.1 billion in funding
for the international affairs budget, including: $3.7 billion
for humanitarian aid, development initiatives, and diplomatic
support in Afghanistan.
- "Oppose all new funding for combat
in Afghanistan and, at a minimum, dramatically change the proportion
of funds for war-fighting compared to those for development,
stabilization, and diplomatic cooperation."
The letter was delivered to the leadership
of the caucuses on May 12 with the endorsement of nearly 100
peace or political organizations.
Chicago DSA Meetings
Chicago DSA's annual membership convention
will be held on Saturday, June 6th, at Noon, in the Chicago DSA
office: 1608 N. Milwaukee, Room 403 in Chicago. There will be
the regular biennial election of the male Co-Chair and the Secretary
(terms of 2 years). There will be a special
election of the female Co-Chair (term of 1 year). The meeting
will also adopt a budget for the coming year, and in connection
with that there will be a discussion about the state of the organization
and future directions. Following the membership convention, there
will be a brief meeting of the Executive Committee.
The Executive Committee has been meeting
on the 2nd Tuesday evening of each month for many years. Beginning
in July, the meetings are being scheduled for the 2nd Saturday
morning of each month, 10:30 AM in the Chicago DSA office; the
July meeting will be on Saturday, July 11.
As part of the "Cook County Consolidated
Elections," the Village of Oak Park elected a President,
a Clerk, and 3 Trustees. DSA member Gary Schwab was running for
President on the "It Takes a Village" Party (ITV).
Chicago DSA endorsed his candidacy. Unfortunately, April elections
do not always bring spring flowers. The entire ITV slate lost,
rather badly, to the Citizens for Responsible Leadership (CLR)
slate that, under one "nom de ballot" or another, has
run the village for decades. This time around, the CLR slate
generally received twice as many votes as the ITV slate. However,
Bruce Samuels won his non-partisan election to the Oak Park Village
Library Board. He came in first among the 4 candidates elected.
Several GOPDSA members worked on the
ITV campaign, including Tom Broderick who also organized a fundraising
house party for the campaign. Some $400 was donated from DSA
Anniversary of Infamy
On Monday, June 15, the striking workers
at the Congress Hotel will have been on strike for 6 years. This
is the longest hotel strike in U.S. history. You are invited
to join the striking workers in a special protest of management's
stubborn refusal to negotiate. Be there at the Congress Hotel,
Congress and Michigan in downtown Chicago, on Monday, June 15,
from 4 PM to 6 PM. Help ensure that hotel jobs in Chicago are
strong, family-sustaining jobs. For information, go to http:/
New New Deal: Making It Happen
Following on a successful panel discussion
organized by Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice (OPCTJ)
after the Inauguration titled "A New New Deal: What Should
It look Like!", OPTJ is organizing a Saturday afternoon
event entitled "A New New Deal: Making It Happen".
It will be held, starting after Noon, on Saturday, June 13, at
the Workers United Hall, 333 S. Ashland in Chicago. This mini-conference
has the long-term goal of promoting a wide-ranging multi-issue
discussion of progressive solutions to the economic crisis and
its root causes. OPCTJ hopes that this and other events like
it will serve as catalysts in bringing together groups and individuals
who are engaged in struggles for peace, equality, social and
economic justice in order to collectively build a grassroots
movement for comprehensive change.
Plenary speakers will provide updates
on four urgent and ongoing campaigns: War and Militarism, Michael
McConnell - American Friends Service Committee; Employee Free
Choice Act, James Thindwa - Chicago Jobs with Justice; Single-Payer
Health Care, Dr. Anne Scheetz - Physicians for a National Health
Plan; Foreclosures and Mortgages, Elce Redmond - South Austin
Coalition of Community Councils.
Following the speakers, break-out sessions
will combine a discussion of two issues, in an effort to build
a synergy across issues and among different constituents. Participants
will be asked to create specific action plans to move each of
the campaigns forward.
The mini-conference is co-sponsored
by over two dozen organizations. For more information, go to
/NewNewDeal/ or call 708.386.1371.