New Ground 126
September - October, 2009
Chicago Sends Congress Hotel a
Ten Years on the Web
Labor Day Issue
Eugene V. Debs Foundation
International League of Religious Socialists
126.1 - 10.01.2009
0. DSA News
DSA in the News
Chicago Union News
Young Workers Present Challenges and Present Opportunities
Crystal Lee Sutton
3. Democratic Socialism
A Love Story by Bob Roman
4. Upcoming Events of Interest
126.2 - 10.16.2009
0. DSA News
DSA in the News
DSA National Convention
Tell Congress: Jobs, Homes, Health
Illinois' Fiscal Disaster by Bob Roman
Hope for Housekeepers
"Les Trois Mousquetaires":
A Brief, Modern Translation by
Health Insurance Disobedience
2. Democratic Socialism
"Capitalism: A Love Story":
3. Upcoming Events of Interest
126.3 - 11.04.2009
0. DSA News
DSA in the News: "Obamaa Is
DSA National Convention
Here Come the Pitchforks
Doing the Afghanistan Surge
2. Democratic Socialism
National Cooperative Month
Happy Birthday Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas
3. Upcoming Events of Interest
by Tom Broderick
This is the Labor Day issue of New Ground.
Labor Day is very much a U.S. holiday. In 1894, President Grover
Cleveland established it to divert attention from May Day International
Workers Day. In the U.S., the holiday refers to labor work. In
most of the world, the holiday is about the worker a human being.
One simple way to celebrate the human
worker is to ensure they earn a wage that provides for themselves
and their families. Many communities across America have enacted
living wage ordinances with that goal in mind. In Oak Park, Illinois,
the Greater Oak Park chapter of the Chicago Democratic Socialists
of America (GOPDSA) has been trying to do this for several years.
We have been joined by the Unity Temple Social Mission Committee
and the Oak Park Coalition for Truth & Justice. In fact,
thanks to the work of the Unity Temple Social Mission Committee,
this Unitarian Universalist Congregation voted to endorse the
Living Wage Ordinance.
In Oak Park, the only body that can
enact a Living Wage Ordinance (LWO) is the Village Board of Trustees.
After failing to get an earlier Board to take up the issue, the
GOPDSA, with help from friends, got a referendum calling for
a LWO on last November's ballot. It passed with a 60% "yes"
vote, even though our economy was in shambles. Instead of taking
up the issue, the Board tasked a citizen advisory commission,
the Community Relations Commission (CRC), to study the impact
of a LWO on the Village. The CRC has been working on this since
The Commission ran into many of the
same problems we encountered trying to gather data from Village
Hall. At a meeting with the Village Manager, we asked for information
on contractors and subcontractors as well as information on businesses
and organizations that receive financial subsidies from the Village.
Nearly nothing was provided. The CRC was able to get some figures
that we couldn't. It may be that the Village can't provide information,
or it may be that it won't.
I worry that the Chair of the CRC will
seize on this lack of information to push that the Commission
make no recommendation to the Village Board. The last report
on the LWO struggle in Oak Park published in New
Ground 123 was titled "If You Can't Beat A Living
Wage, Strangle It." This may well be the strategy that some
on the CRC use to subvert the ordinance.
Still, another step forward took place
at Village Hall on Wednesday, August 19. The CRC held a public
forum to gather information and hear from the community. In structuring
the forum, the Commission wanted to have six speakers provide
informative content. We suggested four possible speakers. All
were accepted. These ended up being the only content speakers.
In addition, there would be time for community members to briefly
address the Commission.
As the structure of the public forum
was being discussed, the Chair of the CRC again exposed his bias.
He declared that he wanted no part of the forum where community
members would speak. Why? Because he would hear the same uninformed
response to an emotional issue from the same public that voted
for the referendum in the first place.
A local newspaper, The Wednesday
Journal, published my letter announcing this comment by the
chair of the Community Relations Commission. The following week,
the Journal published a response from the Chair: "In
the heat of discussion, I say a lot of things I regret."
With storm warnings literally on the
radar, all four content speakers, more than thirty residents,
and six of the seven commissioners made it to the forum.
The four content providers who spoke:
Gina Guillemette, Director, Policy and Advocacy at the Heartland
Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights (www.heartlandalliance.org
); Reverend C.J. Hawking, Executive Director of ARISE Chicago
), and the Harry F. Ward Social Justice pastor at Euclid Avenue
United Methodist Church in Oak Park; Dr. William Barclay, economist
and Adjunct Professor at the School of Business at the University
of Illinois at Chicago; Dr. Ron Baiman, economist, who worked
on the living wage ordinances for both Chicago and Cook County.
Ron researched and put together the
ordinance that we presented to the Village Board of Oak Park.
Ron is also on the staff of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
). Each brought their professional perspective to the forum.
The Commission Chair has often voiced
distrust of the $14.84/hour figure in the proposed ordinance,
as well as the methodology used to arrive at the figure. Ron
Baiman explained the methodology and defended the figure. He
offered one update. When he initially arrived at the dollar figure
for a family of four, he divided the number by two (two full-time
working adults with two small children). Mr. Baiman felt that
it was probably more reasonable to divide by 1.67 (one full and
one part-time working adult). That resulted in an hourly figure
topping $17.00. He also expressed support for more locally focused
and currently updated studies of self-sufficiency as the Heartland
Alliance's upcoming Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard
Gina Guillemette also spoke of differing
calculations to arrive at a living wage. The Heartland Alliance
has a long history of studying and combating poverty and produces
the FESS, the most recent of which comes out in September. Ms.
Guillemette defined a living wage as an income that allows families
to live without relying on public benefits or supports, such
as food stamps, food pantries or subsidized housing. A living
wage does not include luxuries like family vacations, accruing
savings or investing for retirement. She agreed that the 1.67
computation suggested by Ron Baiman was appropriate. Ms. Guillemette
also stated that it was important and most relevant to look at
an area (West Suburban Cook County for example) when computing
a living wage and not just isolate Oak Park, as the Chair of
the CRC has often suggested. Oak Park is not an isolated community,
but connected economically to the larger county region.
Reverend C.J. Hawking proudly announced
that the idea of a movement for a Living Wage began in the early
1990s in a Methodist church in Baltimore, MD. Rev. Hawking quickly
got to the heart of the issue: "It is a moral imperative
that all people who work should be fairly compensated so that
they can sustain themselves and their families. To do less than
this compromises the integrity of the employer and the society
surrounding the employer." Interestingly, the commissioners
had questions for the first two speakers, but none for Rev. Hawking.
Facts and figures could be probed and disputed. The disgraceful
reality of working poor could not.
Closing out the content speakers was
Bill Barclay. He focused on the myths surrounding living wage
ordinances such as job loss and higher costs. Statistically,
paying people living wages significantly cuts job turnover, which
is a major cost to businesses. Training time goes down and productivity
and morale go up. Also, pass-along costs have traditionally been
low. The competitive bidding process that we hope the Village
utilizes would still take place. Now, however, working people
would benefit from the process, and Oak Park residents should
receive more bang for the buck we lay out.
The Commissioners of the CRC are Oak
Park residents, who serve the community without pay. They are
our neighbors and they allowed everyone the time needed to speak
their hearts and minds. There were none of the "time"
announcements that often occur at Village Board meetings when
residents speak. This was a well run public forum, where all
who wanted to speak did, without interference.
Following the content speakers, Village
residents were allowed to weigh in. I counted fourteen speakers.
Grace Whiting, head of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce
said their members needed information to better understand the
issue. Even though this is available through the Village Board
or the CRC, I emailed her a copy of the proposed ordinance.
The owner of a local auto repair company
complained about the high cost of his property taxes and extolled
his generosity to one particular employee. He then took issue
with being forced to pay a living wage to his workers if he receives
financial assistance from the Village. In addition, Pris Mims,
a member of the Oak Park League of Women Voters urged the commissioners
to consider all sides before making a recommendation.
The other residents provided a panoply
of reasons to support this anti-poverty tool, including another
local businessman who said that if paying out a little extra
cash was the cost of a more just world, he was all for it.
Let me spotlight three of our community
speakers: Rich Pokorny is Chair of the Oak Park Coalition of
Truth & Justice. Rich talked about being responsible for
the bottom line at his business. He stated that paying a living
wage not only improved morale and productivity, it also improved
safety in the workplace. In a competitive environment, these
are plusses to all balance sheets personal and corporate.
Rich also pointed out the Oak Park faith
communities he recognized at the forum: Unity Temple, Third Unitarian
Church, Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church, Ascension Church
and the Oak Park Community of Friends. Although he may not have
known it, the non-faith community was also well represented.
Rich felt that the Oak Park faith community would line up solidly
behind a LWO.
Julie Samuels is well known in Oak Park.
In the last gubernatorial race, she was the 2006 Green Party
candidate for Lt. Governor of Illinois. Julie works at Openlands
Project, where she is involved in helping communities plant neighborhood
gardens. She spoke of driving home one evening and witnessing
the results of the "great tree massacre." This was
the brutal sawing off of tree limbs from beautiful, mature trees
along the streets of Oak Park. The work done by a contractor
destroyed valuable trees. She asked if trained workers who actually
knew what they were doing might have been of greater benefit
to the Village than the lowest priced service provider.
Julie also addressed a comment by the
Chair of the CRC. He stated that the responsibility of the Commission
was to carry out the task that the Village Board had given it.
Julie said that the CRC was responsible to the community and
not the Board. Listening and responding to the community was
the task that the Commissioners should involve themselves with.
Her admonition reminded me of comments
by various CRC commissioners at that first meeting in February.
More than one suggested that since the voters had spoken, the
CRC should look to craft a LWO that worked. Each time, the chair
stopped the discussion to argue with them, eventually losing
his temper and yelling that they were there to carry out the
responsibility that the Board had charged them with.
Finally, Bob Simpson talked about the
progressive heritage of Oak Park. Bob is a comrade, active in
the Oak Park / Austin Health Alliance. The heritage he spoke
of is something that ties together so many of our neighbors and
friends. There is pride in the historic drive to racially integrate
the local housing stock.
Oak Park abuts the primarily African
American Austin neighborhood of Chicago. When redlining and white
flight were common in neighborhoods where blacks and whites were
cheek to jowl, residents of Oak Park creatively battled for housing
This community was also an early residential
destination for gays and lesbians. Here too, the housing market
was open to same sex families long before the real estate industry
grasped the profit incentive. In addition, Oak Park is a draw
for mixed race families. Ours is a community that has a tradition
of promoting and living social justice.
Bob pointed out that Oak Park may not
lead the way in the issue of a living wage, but we can join the
many communities who have recognized the confluence of class
and justice. The passage of this Living Wage Ordinance may seem
like a trifle, but its impact on even a few lives will be significant.
The forum provided detailed clarity
on the wrong of enabling poverty. A way forward has been endorsed
by the voters of Oak Park. How the members of the Community Relations
Commission respond is coming. If the Commission, citing the lack
of information made available, opts out of making a recommendation,
it will have taken the low road of avoidance.
Facts and figures exist that point to
what makes a living wage. The issue is whether or not our community
should make sure that those who work for us directly or indirectly,
as stated in the proposed ordinance make a wage that can support
them and their families. We need the kind of comprehensive coverage
that the referendum calls for. This is what the people of Oak
Park endorsed, with 54 of 58 precincts voting "yes."
2009 DSA National Convention:
The Crisis of Politics
and the Economy
by Frank Llewellyn
DSA's National Convention, this November
13-15 in Evanston, comes at a critical time. We will be meeting
at a time of uncertainty about the direction of the economy as
well the direction of progressive politics.
Delegates will attend from around the
country to chart DSA's course for the future in the face of a
crisis in the economy that has produced a Great Recession and
seems headed for a jobless "recovery" and very possibly
further contraction of the economy. The major planks of the reform
that was promised during the campaign remain unfulfilled. It
seems likely that health care will not have passed by the time
we meet in convention and the administration has already given
up on the Employee Free Choice Act, although there is some hope
that labor law reform of some type will pass eventually. The
official unemployment rate, a significant under statement of
the depth of the problem, may surpass 10% by the time of the
And over the last year we have witnessed
a silly and surreal attempt to label the Obama administration
as socialist. While all of us can have a good chuckle at the
idea it has generated far more publicity than is deserved, although
DSA has gotten much more media attention as a result. And because
the Republicans can't seem to come up with a better attack it
was repeated again over Obama's stay-in-school message to students
which, the Republicans and right wingers called socialist propaganda
we can expect this line of attack to be repeated again and again.
Without question we will be addressing
a crisis of politics and the economy that is deeper than any
we have faced since the Great Depression. The convention will
address a number of themes that this crisis throws up:
- How do we restructure a post "recovery"
economy so that it will address the many aftershocks foreclosure
crisis, jobs crisis, and loss of pension income for near and
not so near retirees of the economic crisis?
- How do we build a stronger left that
can challenge Democrats-in-office to implement serious reforms
instead of halfway measures and take up (instead of ignore) issues
like poverty, the urban crisis, peace and our civil liberties?
- How do we build a stronger DSA that
can engage in a serious public education campaign about what
socialism really means?
We hope many Chicago DSAers will want
to participate in the convention. On Friday November 13th at
7PM in Mundelein Auditorium on the Loyola Campus we will hold
a public meeting on the socialist response to the Crisis of Politics
and the Economy.
rest of the Convention sessions will be at the Best Western University
Plaza in Evanston. The night of Saturday the 14th there will
be a convention dinner. The convention program will include many
DSA luminaries including Honorary Chair Cornel West, DSA Vice
Chair Elaine Bernard (Chair, Harvard University Trade Union Education
Program) and Vice Chair Harold Meyerson (Washington Post
columnist), and author and trade unionist Bill Fletcher.
More detailed information about the
program and costs will be mailed to DSA members directly, but
please save the dates. Information will be posted on the National
and Chicago DSA web Sites as it becomes available.
Editor's Note: Frank Llewellyn is
DSA's National Director. For the latest information about the
convention, see http://www.dsausa.org/convention2009/convention.html
Resurrection Health Care
Or Why We Need the Employee Free Choice Act
by Bill Barclay
In 2004, Resurrection Health Care (RHC),
the second largest hospital chain in Chicago, acquired Oak Park's
West Suburban (West Sub) Hospital. Since this acquisition, and
despite its identity as a Catholic company, RHC has behaved as
any other for profit corporation. RHC has cut labor costs by
increasing the patient:nurse ratio (despite numerous studies
that demonstrate the crucial role of this ratio in patients'
recovery time), switched accreditation from the Joint Commission
on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations to the less stringent
American Osteopathic Association's Healthcare Facilities Accreditation
Program and aggressively resisted efforts by employees to organize
for union representation.
The Oak Park/Austin Health Alliance,
formed in 2005 by OPCTJ, SACC and AFSCME Council 31 has fought
both the cost cutting measures and supported the efforts of RHC
employees for a voice in their work. One of our successes has
been the victory of the House Keeping staff at West Sub in their
struggle against a supervisor that hired, fired and allocated
jobs on a racially discriminatory basis. After community rallies,
letters to the local newspapers, testimony before an Oak Park
citizens commission and complaints filed with the Illinois Department
of Human Rights, West Sub finally replaced the supervisor with
one who has respected the housekeeping staff and assigned tasks
and jobs in a non-discriminatory manner. Of course, there was
no acknowledgement on the part of West Sub management that the
actions of the employees and their community and union allies
had any impact on this decision even thought West Sub had to
settle the formal complaints filed with the state of Illinois.
To admit such would be to admit that West Sub employees were
able to take the first step in determining their own fate in
However, RHC's opposition to employee
voice in governing of the work place continues unabated. Earlier
this year nurses in Illinois circulated a petition asking the
legislature to enact safe nurse:patient staffing ratios. Four
West Sub nurses were among the more than more than 2000 who signed
the petition but these four were pictured on an AFSCME
flyer describing the petition. Shortly after publication of the
flyer and within 24 hours of other - three of the four
nurses received disciplinary sanctions. These ranged from elimination
of a job to supervisor write ups. None of the four had ever been
disciplined before, although their combined years of service
totals more than 20. The substance of the disciplinary actions
were thin but the message to others from West Sub management
was clear: If you participate in efforts to give workers a voice,
you will face reprisals from management. The goal is intimidation.
Sometimes people ask what is the reason
that unions are seeking to pass the Employee Free Choice Act
(EFCA), why is it needed? Although every workplace is different,
the all too common element is lack of worker ability to influence
the decisions that govern their working lives. The experience
of West Sub employees, whether the housekeeping staff or the
nurses, is simply one of the hundreds of day to day stories that
illustrates the belief on the part of too many employers that
employees have no rights in the work place, that agreeing to
be an employee means surrendering the right to free speech and
free association. EFCA would, at its most basic level, make it
possible for workers to secure the rights in the work place that
we take for granted in our public life. The ability of workers
to organize into unions without fear of intimidation was FDR's
goal when he signed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.
We now have to fight to reassert that right.
What's the next step at RHC? On September
25 through 26, there will be a vigil outside of RHC headquarters,
asking the chain to recognize and abide by the recent agreement
signed by Catholic health care facilities and unions. The core
of that agreement is neutrality on the part of the employer during
organizing efforts. You can read more about this agreement at
. You can also sign up to join us at the vigil on the same web
Compiled by Bob Roman
Chicago Sends Congress Hotel a
Amid all the other political activities
on Labor Day in Chicago, UNITE HERE Local 1 called a special
picket line outside the Congress Hotel in the morning. The purpose
was to deliver an open letter, signed by some 200 community leaders,
calling upon the Congress Hotel to resume negotiating in earnest
so that the strike may end.
A few hundred people turned out that
morning, including several DSA members and a few more politicians:
Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn and Aldermen Bob Fioretti, Toni
Preckwinkle, and Toni Foulkes. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr.
was also on the picket line, as were Kim Bobo (Interfaith Worker
Justice), Reverend Calvin Morris (Community Renewal Society),
Bob Guy (Illinois AFL-CIO), and I'm sure I'm missing a few that
Reverend Morris reported that the delegation
that attempted to deliver the letter met with a woman of anonymous
corporate status; management was, she claimed, on vacation. Where?
She didn't know. After some discussion, she agreed to let management
know the delegation had been there. It may have been one of the
shorter vacations on record. As the press were packing away their
cameras, a security guard came out to announce that those desiring
to get a statement from the hotel could call the following area
code 312 number (with extension). Apparently management was on
vacation beneath a desk.
The picket line did get a significant
amount of coverage from local journalists, but it was reported
almost exclusively in the context of the 2010 Democratic primary
election. It's the easier story to tell as the audience is already
familiar with it. But the proper context would have been the
ongoing negotiations between Local 1 and Chicago's hospitality
In other developments, as New Ground
was going to press, the Chicago City Council's Finance Committee
passed, 16 to 3, Alderman Munoz' Right to Know Notification law.
This would require hotels affected by a work stoppage to notify
customers of the strike when a reservation is being made. The
Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association was there to whine about
it (too broad, unfair, illegal, etc.), but it should be noted
that, whatever else the Congress Hotel does, they do note the
ongoing strike on their web page. This legislation isn't asking
Ten Years on the Web
On August 23rd, Chicago DSA's web site
had been online for 10 years. As the zero on the odometer came
up, here's how things stood:
Successful requests: 1,792,976
Average successful requests per day: 490
Successful requests for pages: 995,028
Average successful requests for pages per day: 272
Failed requests: 307,241
Redirected requests: 13,966
Distinct files requested: 1,306
Distinct hosts served: 227,686
Data transferred: 138.369 Gigabytes
Average data transferred per day: 38.797 Megabytes
If these numbers look impressive, they're
not really. Or they are, really.
They're not really impressive because
a really "hot" web page (never mind an entire site)
might rack up numbers like this in the space of a minute or two,
never mind 10 years. The numbers also are pretty ambiguous as
to what they actually mean. The reasons are numerous and tedious,
but it comes down to this: For folks who are running the hardware,
the information is useful, mostly.
But for an editor or publisher, the
numbers don't really say much. You can get a sense of which documents
people are looking at. You can get a sense for the search queries
that people use in coming to the web site. You can get a record
of what other sites have linked to yours, and, relatively, how
much traffic those links are generating. But for something resembling
the demographics available to print publications, you need technologies
not available to Chicago DSA, and even then what you get is at
best an approximation.
The numbers for the web site begin to
resemble something impressive when you look at the requests for
specific documents. We have, for example, Michael Harrington's
booklet "Why We Need Socialism
in America". It's been requested about 7,500 times since
it was posted nearly 3 years ago. Or New
Ground 45, up on the web for about 9 years, requested
over 17,000 times. Or the audio recording of Max
Shachtman and Norman Thomas, up on the web for about 4 years,
requested over 6,000 times. What was the original press run of
Harrington's booklet? How many people attended the Shachtman
- Thomas forum? And New Ground? The press run has varied
between 500 and 800 each issue. The numbers on the web are better
than an order of magnitude greater than the originals, all at
next to no cost.
Labor Day Issue
This is our 14th annual Labor Day issue
of New Ground. It seems right to thank everyone who has
contributed, including those shy folks who are not represented
by ads in this issue. It has been a reasonably successful fundraising
effort; we've raised about half of New Ground's annual
budget. This is about what we were hoping to do. And we're still
receiving checks. And it's likely that New Ground 127
will have a few late ads as well.
This is good, for while our annual dinner
is a great resource, it's not a good thing for it to be such
a huge (and not especially predictable) part of our income. So
your support for New Ground is appreciated and important.
Eugene V. Debs Foundation
The Eugene V. Debs Foundation maintains
the Debs' family home in Terre Haute, Indiana, as a museum and
shrine to labor. Like Chicago DSA, they depend on an annual awards
dinner for most of their income. This year, the event will be
held on Saturday, October 3, 6 PM at Indiana State University's
Hulman Center in Terre Haute. This year they will be honoring
Ron Gettelfinger, President of the United Auto Workers. The keynote
speech will be given by Michael Sullivan, President of the Sheet
Metal Workers and President of the Debs Foundation. Tickets are
$35, and may be ordered from the Debs Foundation, PO Box 9454,
Terre Haute, IN 47808. For questions concerning the Dinner, call
Charles King at 812.237.3443 or firstname.lastname@example.org
. For about the Debs Foundation, go to http://www.eugenevdebs.com
If you attend, look for Chicago DSA's
Michael Baker. Say hello.
International League of Religious
The International League of Religious
Socialists will hold its 2009 Congress in Córdoba, Spain
from October 9-11. The theme of the Congress is Global Crisis
and Spirituality: Strengthening Alliances with Faith and Social
Justice. DSA's Religion and Socialism Commission is a member
of the ILRS. For more information, see http://www.ilrs.org/cordoba/