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Work Week Radio: AFL-CIO and Opposition To Pipeline and Brazilian Workers Strike

By Steve Zeltser - Work Week Radio KPFA, September 27, 2016

WorkWeek looks at the growing conflict in the labor movement over the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the protests by Standing Rock Sioux Native Americans and other tribes and supporters against the pipeline. LIUNA, the Teamsters, Operating Engineers and Richard Trumpka of the AFL-CIO have supported the pipeline. Additional LIUNA, IBT, Pipefitters and Operating Engineers have also called for calling in the National Guard to protect the pipeline workers from protest.

Unions including the National Nurses Union NNU, Amalgamated Transit Union ATU, Communication Workers Of America CWA and American Postal Workers Union have opposed the pipeline and supported the protesting Native American tribes.

WorkWeek interviews NNU Director of Director of Environmental Health and Climate Justice for National Nurses United (NNU) Fernando Losada. We also interview Jeremy Brecher who is a labor writer and with Labor For Sustainability.

They discuss the split in labor, what is behind it and also the labor management partnership between the building union leadership and the oil and fossil fuel corporations.

Next WorkWeek looks at the upcoming strike in Brazil of auto and metal workers along with bank and public workers with Fabio Bosco who is with the Sao Paulo Metro workers union and Conlutas a labor federation which is supporting the strike.

Big Labor has an identity crisis, and its name is Dakota Access

By Aura Bogado - Grist, September 28, 2016

A growing rift has split the country’s biggest union federation, the AFL-CIO. Many labor activists and union members are outraged that Richard Trumka, the federation’s president, threw the AFL-CIO’s support behind the Dakota Access pipeline project earlier this month.

The AFL-CIO’s statement backing the pipeline was announced a week after the Obama administration put construction on hold. Trumka acknowledged “places of significance to Native Americans” but argued that the more than “4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs” attached to the pipeline trumped environmental and other considerations.

That move rankled many in the AFL-CIO’s more progressive wing, highlighting strains within the federation of 56 unions representing 12 million workers. Recent tensions within the AFL-CIO have deepened a long-running divide between a more conservative, largely white, jobs-first faction and progressive union members who are friendly to environmental concerns and count more people of color among their ranks.

Grist interviewed five staffers at the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press. Trumka’s public support for the pipeline caught these senior-level and mid-level staffers by surprise, they told Grist — especially because he had recently taken progressive positions on Black Lives Matter, immigration, and criminal justice.

A call to Trumka’s office was not returned. The federation’s policy director, Damon Silvers, who is said to have helped write the statement, also did not respond to an interview request.

Union opponents of the pipeline project and their advocates quickly responded on social media with satire. One post on Twitter likened Trumka’s position to helping the wrong side in Star Wars.

Other frustrated union members and staffers placed calls to Climate Workers, an organization of union workers focused on climate justice, to vent. Brooke Anderson, an organizer at the group, says she fielded dozens of calls from members upset about the AFL-CIO’s position.

Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 28, 2016

As United States Energy Transfers Partners began building the Dakota Access Pipeline through territory sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the tribe began an escalating campaign against the pipeline. By this summer nearly 200 tribes around the country had passed resolutions opposing the pipeline and many hundreds of their members joined nonviolent direct action to halt it. Amidst wide public sympathy for the Native American cause, environmental, climate protection, human rights, and many other groups joined the campaign. On September 9, the Obama administration intervened to temporarily halt the pipeline and open government-to-government consultations with the tribes.

The Dakota Access Pipeline has become an issue of contention within organized labor. When a small group of unions supported the Standing Rock Sioux and opposed the pipeline, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka issued a statement discounting Native American claims and urging that work on the pipeline resume. Other constituencies within labor quickly cracked back. Why has this become a divisive issue within labor, and can it have a silver lining for a troubled labor movement?

Indigenous Resistance Deserves Workers' Solidarity

By Roger Butterfield - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 26, 2016

September 15th’s announcement that the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) supports the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) hardly came as a surprise to me, but it definitely didn’t lift my spirits about the present state of organized labor in the US. At a time when solidarity and support is needed for one of the most vibrant and powerful indigenous liberation movements of the decade, the federation asked itself “Which side are you on?”, and spoke its answer plainly: with business and its owners. Any organization committed to an egalitarian society (or the general survival of the human species, for that matter) would condemn the pipeline company’s attacks on indigenous protesters. Any genuine and s trong w orkers’ organization should call on the construction workers to withhold their labor, offer legal support to those that do, and provide what resources it could offer to supporting resistance to scabs and jail support for the protesters.

But the AFL-CIO is not a genuine workers’ organization, nor has it ever committed itself to egalitarianism. It has a long history of excluding workers from its unions (people of color, women, communists, unskilled laborers, and immigrants), only removing these barriers when the culture surrounding and internal to it faced sufficient challenge from workers and the courts. In recent times the federation supported construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, another environmental catastrophe that would cut through not only swathes of indigenous land, but provide very few long-term jobs for construction workers.

The organization’s behavior seems to be driven by a political orientation to securing better day to day working conditions for its already existing union members, without regard for a broader and long-term, liberatory social vision. “Social blindness” (IWW member Helen Keller’s phrase) to the devastation of both environment and persons is the only way federation president Richard Trumka can conceivably justify backing the construction of a pipeline. Opposition to the construction of a climate bomb being built over the graves of protestors’ ancestors is characterized as “hold[ing] union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay”.

When the federation does release documents detailing a strategy or a vision, they read like Democratic Party talking points. The AFL-CIO has attached itself to and merged with the center of the Democratic Party, becoming an appendage of an ever rightward-shifting parliamentary politics, hoping that electoral action in the form of legislation (eliminating Taft-Hartley, securing anti-discrimination protections for joining a union) will somehow stop or alleviate unions’ declining membership and create a labor rebirth. Or they believe that politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will fight neoliberal cuts to public services and attacks on union rights, when their “opposition” mainly consists of an alternative public relations strategy for pursuing the policies that best serve business owners. This is more than a failed strategy for workers: it’s a reactionary one that abandons the workplace as a site of struggle and appeals to a more benevolent-sounding wing of the capitalist state.

In fact, the AFL-CIO is acting on the right wing of Obama: thanks to the pressure placed on the federal government to react to the indigenous coalition’s direct actions, the Obama administration has halted all construction on federal land (pending a review of environmental impacts), invited native leaders to formal talks to have a voice in modifying existing laws, and called on the pipeline company to pause construction. Federation President Richard Trumka is calling on the federal government to reverse that decision, and “allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.”

In other words, the labor establishment wants to reject the state’s management strategy for public dissent, and instead opt for a more naked form of exploitation of dispossessed people and their environment. This is not “pushing politicians” to adopt policies more beneficial to workers; it’s abandoning any meaningful commitment to the idea that “an injury to one is an injury to all”, and doing the work of business owners for them. As my friend Nick Walter helpfully commented, “This is because at the end of the day the mainstream unions really do believe that the source of wealth is business and commerce rather than the labour of working people.”

The North American working class, particularly the embattled indigenous resistance in North Dakota, deserves better than the bureaucratic and conservative AFL-CIO. It deserves a labor movement inclusive of all workers and exclusive of capitalists and their state’s security forces, one led by the workers themselves and willing to fight for day-to-day changes on the job and to build long-term revolutionary changes in society at large. It deserves a class unionism across all ethnic, racial, gendered, and national lines, ultimately seeking to abolish class society itself.

The IWW joins with prominent labor organizations (National Nurses United, New York State Nurses Association, Communication Workers of America, Amalgamated Transit Union, United Electrical Workers, ILWU Local 19, Oregon Public Employees Union/SEIU Local 503, California Faculty Association, Labor Coalition for Community Action, and National Writers Association/UAW Local 1891) in supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to oppose the pipeline. As rank and file workers, we must reject any business, union, or labor federation that calls for collusion with the interests of business and action against dispossessed indigenous people.

'Lockdown' Tactic Spreads to Iowa #NoDAPL Resistance

By David Goodner - Common Dreams, September 26, 2016

Montrose, Iowa—As dozens of protesters looked on, twelve activists were arrested Saturday, September 24, for civil disobedience at a Dakota Access construction site along the Mississippi River, between Sandusky and Montrose, Iowa, where they ultimately shut down construction for nearly six hours.

Of the twelve arrested, three sneaked onto Dakota Access property in the early morning hours Saturday and chained themselves to equipment before the pipeline workers arrived for the day to turn on the drill boring underneath the river.

All twelve were arrested for criminal trespass, a simple misdemeanor, and processed at the Lee County jail, according to county officials.

“We need more front line water protectors now,” said Alex Cohen, of St. Louis, one of the demonstrators taken into custody Saturday. “They are moving quick, we need to move faster.”

The protest was organized by the grassroots collective Mississippi Stand and their solidarity network across Eastern Iowa. Mississippi Stand is an intentional community of everyday people occupying a camp across from the Mississippi River construction site. It was started by a Des Moines woman who blockaded the entrance with over a dozen tires Dakota Access had stacked nearby.

On September 24, 44 people were arrested at the same location while over a hundred and fifty others picketed on the highway shoulder. Half of those arrested walked through neighboring farmland and hopped a security fence to get onto the construction site.

At least 116 people have been arrested in Iowa at anti-pipeline protests since August 31, when 30 were arrested for blockading a company staging area in Boone, halfway across the state from Montrose. Eighteen more were arrested on September 10 during a similar blockade. Last week, 11 Iowa CCI members were cited for using their cars to block entrance and exit points in the same area, during a demonstration attended by nearly two hundred people.

The mass arrests in two separate hotspots across the Iowa portion of the pipeline route are now a flashpoint in the pipeline fight, and have attracted significant attention while becoming a real headache for county, state, and company officials alike.

Lee County has begun racking up overtime costs, while Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who has several personal ties to the project, has authorized the Iowa State Patrol to assist county law enforcement in protest containment. Dakota Access responded to the lockdown at the Mississippi River drilling location Saturday by installing floodlights and organizing around the clock security. A restraining order filed in court by Dakota Access against Central Iowa organizational leaders Bold Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement was delayed and then voluntarily withdrawn.

The lockdowns last Saturday by Iowa water protectors, who sneaked onto company property and chained themselves to the equipment, rather than choosing to symbolically cross a line and immediately take an arrest, disrupted construction for over half the day. They mark an important tactical escalation in the Iowa-based movement against the Dakota Access Bakken oil pipeline, and one that was copied directly from some of the most successful indigenous protests in North Dakota.

Iowa protest leaders might also look to the First Nation people for another successful direct action protest tactic. On several occasions in North Dakota, mass assemblies of American Indians have broken through police and company lines and shut down construction for the day simply by having hundreds of people collectively walk forward together without stopping, rather than artificially dividing their power into smaller groups of those willing to risk arrest and those who are not.

This form of nonviolent protest, if deployed in Iowa, could cause a legitimate crisis for state law enforcement, who may be cornered into choosing between either accepting periodic shutdowns without causing an even bigger scene, or dispersing the peaceful crowds with tear gas or some other kind of excessive force. Either reaction will heighten the sense of civil unrest, increase public sympathy for the movement cause, increase the financial costs for Dakota Access, and put additional pressure on President Obama to step in and kill the project once and for all.

President Obama has already halted construction in some areas of North Dakota indefinitely.

Without any further delays, most of the Iowa portion of the Dakota Access Bakken oil pipeline is scheduled to be completed by October 31, according to company sources.

Dakota Access spokesperson Vicki Granado declined to comment on this story.

Beyond Rhetoric – What Does the “Just Transition” Mean for DAPL?

By Emily Llyn Williams - Climate Justice Project, September 20, 2016

Rob sat across the fire at Sacred Stone Camp from me, hands deep in his pockets against the deepening chill of the night. He was recounting the difficulties he had faced in his home state of North Dakota as an environmentalist while all his neighbors baulked at the term. Rob, you see, had come to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to support the local Sioux tribes in opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). As I pressed him more for what it was like where he was from and what people thought about the pipeline in the heavily oil-reliant North Dakotan economy, he finally professed that he wasn’t the best one to ask – his neighbors were reluctant to talk to him because he himself opposed the pipelines.

The idea was for DAPL to connect the newly burgeoning oil fields of North Dakota to an existing framework of pipelines in Illinois. Faced with the choice to truck it, transport it by train, or build a pipeline, Energy Transfer Partner decided the latter would be the most economical and, moreover, they claim, the most “environmental.” However, the term “environmental” has often been co-opted by companies and used to greenwash more dangerous practices. Indeed, environmentalists, farmers who live downstream, and the Sioux people at Standing Rock (just to name a few) insist that all pipelines break and the threat to the water of the Missouri river is too great to risk such a project.

To understand why such a project would be pursued, we need to think for a moment about the economy of North Dakota and, more specifically, about Rob’s neighbors. In 2006, the Bakken oil formation was discovered in North Dakota and capitalized upon. These reserves had remained untapped up to that moment; what changed was the invention of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking). When the process of fracking was created, in conjunction with a greater desire to become as a country more energy independent, the Bakken formation turned to gold. The area was quickly spun into production and produced job after job – so many in fact that during the Great Recession, unemployment remained low in North Dakota [1]. However, in 2012, the oil boom peaked and turned to the downward end of the boom-and-bust cycle. With the global price of oil plummeting, the fields have become much less profitable and, in an economy so heavily reliant on the production of those oil fields, people have been hit hard financially [2]. While it won’t have any significant impact on the global price of oil, the DAPL pipeline represents for many North Dakotans a step towards bolstering the oil industry and, therefore, jobs. Energy Transfer Partners have been very good at selling this pipeline to the people of North Dakota as a glimmer of hope in an economy whose gold plating has been scraped off. Why should Rob’s neighbors care about water quality downstream or the impending doom of climate change to be faced by their grandchildren when they can’t find a job to put food on the table?

The cruel irony is that the pipeline is set to run through native lands—both on the Standing Rock reservation and off of it where the peoples’ ancestral and burial sites are found. Standing Rock has one of the highest poverty rates of any reservation in the continental United States. However, while the people of North Dakota who work in the oil fields are sold the dream that DAPL would bring economic success to them and their families, the people of Standing Rock have nothing to win from the construction of the pipeline. The Sioux were never consulted in the planning of DAPL, and would receive no economic benefit; moreover, their water source and lands that hold great cultural significance to them are threatened and would surely become degraded. These are not just probabilities, since some are already realities – in early September, the company bulldozed a huge Sioux burial site in preparation for laying pipe [3].

Naomi Klein’s term for lands and experiences such as these is “sacrifice zones” – zones in which the people and ecosystems are sacrificed and hidden away for the profit of others, or areas which bear the external costs of others’ practices. What the Sioux are making is an understandable plea – to protect the water and their homes. They call themselves “water protectors” and peacefully march and non-violently chain themselves to bulldozers with the eloquent message that “water is life.” In the midst of extreme poverty, loss of traditions across generations, and generally tough living conditions on the reservation, they remind others that you need water and can drink water, but you cannot drink oil.

Nonetheless, even as obvious as it is that water, not oil, is essential to life and therefore must be protected, we cannot ignore Rob’s neighbors’ concerns about their jobs. Water is life, but the oil workers of North Dakota are trying to support their lives too as best they can. Too often in conversations about climate justice and calls to keep fossil fuels in the ground, as activists we forget (or conveniently ignore) what it means for those whose livelihoods and sometimes family traditions are so bound up in maintaining the status quo. When we talk about the transition to a 100% renewable energy economy, we need to think about all those who stand to lose while the desired transition unfolds. The fossil fuel industry and climate change don’t care about peoples’ lives or the health of ecosystems; the climate justice movement, however, has a responsibility to do better and ensure that the transition is a just one and includes everyone.

An economy so heavily reliant on the extraction and transportation of oil is an unstable economy; witness the relentless boom-and-bust cycles of so many American towns. Rather than plummeting these economies into a permanent bust and expecting the workers to train themselves up for a new job in renewable energy 1000 miles away, we need to think about how to plan a transition with these workers at the decision-making table, right alongside the indigenous folks who are on the ground fighting the pipeline. Planning ahead for diverse and varied economic activities to take the place of an oil-driven economy, working on job training programs, and asking the workers what they need before the tap is shut off are just a few ways to ensure that they come along willingly and have a stake in what replaces a way of life that can no longer be sustained if humanity is to have a future.

The transition to a 100% renewable economy is already underway and is going to happen whether or not everyone is on board. The only questions are how quickly it happens, and whether it can be done in a way that brings Rob’s neighbors to the table instead of the self-appointed few that got us into this mess in the first place. 

GEO at UIUC Statement in Response to Richard Trumka’s Statement on the Dakota Access Pipeline

By Solidarity Committee - Graduate Employees Organization UIUC (IFT-AFT Local 6300 AFL-CIO), September 22, 2016

Last Thursday, September 15, 2016 AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a statement: “The AFL-CIO calls on the Obama Administration to allow construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue.” (Entire statement can be accessed here.) We, the Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—I.F.T./A.F.T. local 6300 AFL-CIO—are disappointed and appalled that the AFL-CIO’s highest leadership would make such a statement. Our sense of justice and solidarity compel us to publicly voice our opposition to Trumka’s statement. He does not speak for the entire AFL-CIO. He does not speak for us. We, the GEO-UIUC, stand in solidarity with Sacred Stone camp and the over 200 Indigenous Nations which have united to oppose construction of the DAPL.

Securing jobs with dignity is one front of class struggle. However, the extraction of fossil fuels, from Bakken oil in North Dakota to hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" in upstate New York, is leaving behind vast expanses of dead land and dead water around the globe. It is critical that we step outside our narrow interests and ask: Who will have jobs in a dead planet? In terms of fundamental needs, what is more important than clean water? As the land and water protectors of Sacred Stone camp say, “Water is Life”.

We call on the Obama administration, the AFL-CIO leadership, and the entire labor movement to respect Native sovereignty and the right of communities to safeguard their basic necessities against corporate exploitation. Trumka argues that the DAPL must be allowed because it creates jobs. We do not dispute that it creates temporary jobs. However, job creation must be paired with justice, otherwise working-class struggle morphs into working-class complicity in continuing settler colonialism. The United States government, and the businesses which will profit from construction of the DAPL, do not have the right to disrespect Native Sovereignty with the construction of this shameful pipeline. Nor can they guarantee the safety of the pipeline as seen from numerous pipeline leaks and spills around the world causing incalculable damages to millions: Kalamazoo River oil spill (2010), Alberta oil spill (2015), Alabama pipeline leak (2016), to name just a few. The labor movement must stand in solidarity with Native struggle against extraction (and contamination) that disproportionately impacts the disenfranchised and the marginalized. We call on AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to rescind his appalling statement, and to instead stand in solidarity with the Indigenous-led movement against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Trumka and building trades leaders join bosses, support Dakota Pipeline

By Richard Mellior - Facts for Working People, September 22, 2016

In an article on its website, the liberal leaning Common Dreams has published a letter sent by Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Unions to the presidents of all the AFL-CIO. The letter condemns those unions that support the Standing Rock Sioux in their struggle to defend their sacred lands our environment. The article reads:

In the letter, McGarvey questions top leadership for not taking a firmer position in defense of the union members working on Dakota Access and calls out other AFL-CIO member unions—specifically the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the National Nurses United (NNU), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU)—for aligning with "environmental extremists" opposed to the pipeline and participating in a "misinformation campaign" alongside "professional agitators" and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

The letter condemns the other unions and the AFL-CIO for not defending the 4500 workers who will lose their jobs if the project is halted. This horror that stopping the pipeline represents for the heads of the building trades is not unlike the horror it represents to the capitalists and investors who hope to profit from it: “Should the administration ultimately stop this construction, it would set a horrific precedent,” I quoted one leader of a pro-pipeline coalition as saying in an earlier commentary.

It's not just that the stifling bureaucracy that heads organized labor doesn't care about climate change, they don't care about their own members or workers in general. The trade unions to these leaders, especially those in the building trades, are employment agencies with them as the CEO's. They are protecting a smaller and smaller dues base that will keep them in their positions and preserve the relationships they have built with the bosses and the corporations based on labor peace.

They are junior partners alongside the developers, energy companies and other huge industries in making capitalism work, keeping profits sacrosanct and flowing in to the coffers of the rich. It is not simply a matter of disrespecting sacred or sovereignty of Native Americans whose culture was almost wiped out as capitalism spread across this continent in the wake of a racist genocidal war. The only thing sacred for the ruling class in this country is profits. The only reason that capitalists hire workers is they have to as profit comes from the unpaid labor of the working class. It is created though the labor process as workers are paid less in wages than the value the use of their labor power creates.

As Tribes Fight Pipeline, Internal AFL-CIO Letter Exposes 'Very Real Split'

By Jon Queally - Common Dreams, September 22, 2016

The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, generated waves of criticism by standing against the Standing Rock Sioux and supportive allies last week when it endorsed the Dakota Access Pipeline – a project opponents say threatens tribal sovereignty, regional water resources, and sacred burial grounds while also undermining efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.

Yet while a public statement by AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka stirred widespread backlash, what has not been seen by the general public is an internal letter which preceded that statement—a letter which not only reveals a deeper and growing rift within the federation, but one that also helps expose the troubling distance between the needs of workers and priorities of policy-makers on a planet where runaway temperatures are said to be changing everything.

Trumka said the pipeline deserved the AFL-CIO's support because it was "providing over 4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs" and argued that "attacking individual construction projects is neither effective nor fair to the workers involved."

In turn, many of the tribes and their progressive allies saw the statement as a short-sighted, if predictable, position on behalf of the federation's building trade unions. Norman Solomon, writing on these pages, didn't mince words when he said Trumka's remarks amounted to "union leadership for a dead planet" that could easily be mistaken for the "standard flackery" of the oil and gas industry. On Monday of this week, a coalition of AFL-CIO constituency organizations, made up of groups normally supportive of the federation, bucked Trumka's public stance by declaring their own opposition to the pipeline.

But many of those outside critics of the AFL-CIO didn't know the half of it. That's because none of them have likely seen a much more harshly-worded letter, obtained by Common Dreams, which was circulated internally among the federation's leadership ahead of Trumka's statement.

The five-page letter (pdf), dated September 14th, is addressed to Trumka and copied to all presidents of the AFL-CIO's 56 affiliated unions. It was sent by Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU), which represents 14 separate building and construction unions within the federation.

In the letter, McGarvey questions top leadership for not taking a firmer position in defense of the union members working on Dakota Access and calls out other AFL-CIO member unions—specifically the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the National Nurses United (NNU), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU)—for aligning with "environmental extremists" opposed to the pipeline and participating in a "misinformation campaign" alongside "professional agitators" and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Solidarity Forever? - Last week the AFL-CIO broke my heart, releasing a statement supporting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline

By Brendan Orsinger - Medium, September 21, 2016

My grandma Gloria is 92-years old and the single greatest influence in my life. She has inspired me through the way she has led her life. She has strengthened my moral fabric as a human being and shaped what I believe to be right. She has given me the gift of music, and understanding and deep appreciation for justice, solidarity, and unions. Through the stories she’s told with great passion and conviction, she’s the reason I feel so moved and empowered to act.

Among her accomplishments, she:

  1. Alone raised three young children after being widowed when my grandfather Arthur died very suddenly.
  2. Graduated from law school at the age of 60, and was elected keynote speaker by her classmates.
  3. Worked on passage of and was present at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (and has one of the pens!).

Gloria came to Washington, DC to work for the Congress of Industrial Organizations, or the CIO, where she met my grandfather. After a secretive office romance, they snuck away one Friday afternoon to Alexandria Courthouse in Virginia to exchange their vows. When my grandfather Arthur passed away, it was their colleagues and union members who surrounded her with love and support and made sure she had a job to support her three small children.

In the 1960’s grandma Gloria was a legislative representative for the IUE, or the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America. They exist today as the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers — Communications Workers of America, or IUE-CWA. She worked with members of Congress and the White House during that time for passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. She was invited to the signings of both pieces of landmark legislation. She believed deeply in equality, and when Dr. Martin Luther King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963 and shared his dream, she was there with my mother.

She later would go on to work for AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.) Then for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC.

The labor movement runs in my blood through four generations, going back to my great-grandmother, Rose.

Gloria was influenced by her mother Rose, who worked in the garment district in New York. She worked for a dress factory/sweatshop and after seeing a need for improvement of conditions, became a member of the IWW or the Industrial Workers of the World — also affectionally known as the “Wobblies”. Under the IWW, she specifically worked with the International Ladies Garment Union.

Back then, conditions were really bad. There were stories of women with out means for childcare who would be forced to work with their babies beside them, asleep on the dirty floor covered with garment lint. There were no laws or protections for these women, so the doors were locked to force higher productivity. These were the same conditions that led to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory fire in New York City that killed 145 workers.

It was my great-grandmother Rose who became a leader on then picket lines to demand the right to a reasonable wage and better working conditions. She ensured during strikes that the picket lines were held and never crossed. When the police tried to open the line to let the “scabs” through. Rose was punched by a cop after she warned him, “Don’t you put your hands on my girls!”. It’s unclear if the slap she landed on his cheek prior provoked the officer to violence.

There are so many stories like this I have heard from my grandmother about her “Mommy Rose”, but there are two in particular that stuck with me last Friday afternoon and Monday morning in the rain when I stood outside the headquarters of the AFL-CIO yelling and singing until I had lost my voice and my megaphone died — and even then, with no voice I sat outside in the rain and whistled union songs my grandmother taught me.

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