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Here’s How a Supreme Court Decision To Gut Public Sector Unions Could Backfire on the Right

By Shaun Richman - In These Times, February 8, 2017

Janus v. AFSCME, which begins oral arguments on February 26, is the culmination of a years-long right-wing plot to financially devastate public-sector unions. And a Supreme Court ruling against AFSCME would indeed have that effect, by banning public-sector unions from collecting mandatory fees from the workers they are compelled to represent. But if the Court embraces the weaponization of free speech as a cudgel to beat up on unions, the possibility of other, unintended consequences is beginning to excite some union advocates and stir fear among conservative constitutional scholars.

The ruling could both wildly increase workers’ bargaining power and clog the lower courts with First Amendment challenges to routine uses of taxpayer money. At a minimum, it has the potential to turn every public sector workplace dispute into a constitutional controversy—and one Midwest local is already laying plans to maximize the chaos this could cause.

Going on Offense During Challenging Times

By Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione - New Labor Forum, December 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) campaigns are expanding and spreading across the country. These campaigns offer important lessons on how unions, racial justice organizations, and other community groups can go on offense and win in these challenging times. The upcoming Janus decision at the Supreme Court, which threatens the membership and financial base of public-sector unions, makes this all the more crucial. In essence, BCG campaigns are when union and community groups together leverage contract negotiations for broader, shared gains.

Far from being new, much of BCG builds on what have been essential elements of building the labor movement from its earliest inception. The “mixed assemblies” of the Knights of Labor (founded in 1869) acted as community of unions working in conjunction with the organization’s trade assemblies. Unions and community groups have been partners in bargaining, budget, and political fights for years. Labor’s greatest battles—from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the United Farm Workers strikes in the 1960s, to the Memphis sanitation workers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME]) strikes—all depended on deep community support that also reflected the values and needs of the whole community.

More recently, Jobs with Justice was founded in 1987 with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice, particularly in the face of growing attacks on the right to organize and bargain. In 1996, the AFL-CIO through its Department of Field Mobilization launched its Union Cities strategy, working with key Central Labor Councils to reimagine labor’s relationship with community groups. This work included mapping corporate power structures, developing and building an infrastructure for political work, increasing diversity in leadership and activists, and supporting organizing of unrepresented workers in local communities.

Digging a little deeper, however, it is clear that the history of too many labor–community alliances were transactional in nature: “Support us on this campaign and we will support or fund you in some way.” When in fact what went unrecognized are the unified values and needs of community and labor, what’s good for a group of workers is generally also what’s good for the community, and, conversely, organized labor can exercise muscle and leverage access to power for broader shared community interests.

BCG aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and labor by building lasting alignments between unions and community groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.

Grassroots Movement Wins Millions In Fare Reductions For Portlanders

By Shawn Fleek - Inequality.Org, February 7, 2018

An Oregon environmental group secured its new discount program for low-income riders by organizing in the communities most likely to face barriers to civic participation.

Policymakers often overlook the people they’re meant to serve. When people aren’t fairly treated or meaningfully involved in the decisions which impact them, it leads to environmental injustice.

We see environmental injustice frequently in Portland, Oregon. The city is in a housing crisis of rapid gentrification, skyrocketing rents, and a record numbers of evictions. Portland’s transportation system is in critical condition, as a booming population chokes streets with traffic while transit ridership declines. We have some of the worst air quality in the country, and regulators seem less interested in cleaning it up than making polluters happy.

Yet OPAL, our small grassroots group in Portland, has spent the last ten years winning millions of dollars for low-income people and people of color, changing federal, state and local policy, and directly confronting environmental injustice. In January, we saw our biggest win to date: a fare reduction program that will save $10 million for low-income bus riders in the city. The program will serve individuals who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, providing a discount of more than 75 percent on the cost of a monthly bus pass, and 50 percent off an individual ride.

How do we do it? Grassroots organizing in the communities most likely to face discrimination and barriers to participation in civic life. Since 2010, OPAL has organized Portland’s transit riders under the banner Bus Riders Unite (BRU). At OPAL, organizing means bringing together the people and resources to win campaigns.

“At OPAL, low-income people and people of color make the rules,” says Executive Director Huy Ong, who leads OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon. “Our staff are all people of color from low-income backgrounds. We organize our communities to achieve a safe and healthy environment in the places where we live, work, learn, pray, and play.”

“We get on the buses and ask people about their experiences, not to meet a quota of signatures but because we genuinely care about these stories. We help people see that telling their stories to decision makers can change the decisions.”

BRU’s most recent victory became official on January 24th, 2018. BRU launched a campaign in late 2016 demanding a fare reduction for low-income people. TriMet, the regional transit agency, recently installed $22 million worth of new electronic fare equipment. BRU found out about the plan — which added costs to bus rides, limited ticket options in certain areas, and proposed to eliminate cash transfers — and fought back, hard.

TriMet quickly agreed to preserve the use of cash, and to hand out hundreds of thousands of free electronic fare cards to make the transition smoother. BRU then launched a campaign demanding a fare reduction for low-income people, based off of similar programs in Seattle and San Francisco.

"Without a Popular Movement We Don’t Stand a Chance”: Andreas Malm on Climate Change

By Rasmus Landström - Verso Books, February 5, 2018

First published at ETC. Translated by Sam Carlshamre.

Andreas Malm sits in his office in his apartment in Malmö. He is looking uncomfortable. The question I asked — if he is active in any political organisation — seems to have opened the floodgates of his bad conscience. Well, of course, he is a member of Socialistiska Partiet (“The Socialist Party” — a Swedish left-wing organisation with its roots in the Trotskyist tradition) and Klimataktion (“Climate Action”), but the days when he went blocking airport runways seems to be over. Last year he missed the major actions against the coal plants in Germany due to a foot injury.

"Since I became a researcher I have turned into a kind of 'Armchair Activist,' and it’s something that I makes me feel incredibly embarrassed."

He scratches his head.

"But I do try to participate in as many demonstrations and manifestations as I can; and why not a riot every now and then? I guess you shouldn’t write that last bit though."

An internationally renowned researcher and authority in the field of Human ecology who participates in riots? For those of us who have followed Andreas Malm’s trajectory over the last decades that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. For many years he was a well-known character of the non-parliamentarian, far-left Sweden. He started out with Palestine activism in the 1990s, which led to the book Bulldozers Against a People — in which he chronicled his own work with activists in some of the most dangerous parts of Palestine’s. Later he wrote two books on the workers’ struggle in Iran together with his partner Shora Esmailian — which led to them both being banned from returning to the country. He has also been an activist in the struggle against Islamophobia and American imperialism, and has written books on these topics as well.

"Since I became a researcher I’ve been drawn into this academic bubble. I could say that that’s because I have a small child to take care of, but it still gives me a very bad conscience."

Malm sighs and looks quite unhappy. I figure its time to change the subject. After all, the reason I’m doing this interview isn’t his personal track record as an activist, but his contributions as a researcher and political commentator. I start by asking how he got engaged in the struggle against climate change.

"In the early 2000s I considered the whole issue of climate change a bit "petty bourgeois," as did most of us on the radical, non-parliamentarian left. Why should we care about polar bears or melting ice caps when there were more important issues, such as the workers’ struggle, right here? But then I came across Mark Lynas’ book High Tide; I read it and it got me thinking. At that time, I was active in issues concerning the Middle East, and suddenly it struck me that a democratic Iran would never come about if there was no potable water around. That made me write the book Det är vår bestämda uppfattning att om ingenting görs nu kommer det att vara för sent (“It is our Firm View that if Nothing is Done Now it will be too Late”). Since then I have kept working on these issues within the academy."

Making Local Woods Work

By Mark Walton - Stir to Action, October 2017

The Forestry Commission estimates that 47% of England’s woodlands are unmanaged. If you like to think of woods as wild places and flinch at the idea of a tree being felled, then you might consider this a good thing. But woodlands, at least in this country, need management.

Whilst truly wild woodlands are ‘climax vegetation’ that has achieved a balance between death and renewal, these generally need to be at a scale much bigger than any of our remaining woodlands to thrive independently of humans.

Here in Britain, “the wildwood” has a central place in our culture and imaginations, but the reality is that active management has shaped our woodlands since the ice age, providing supplies of food, fuel and timber, and creating diverse habitats amongst the trees. Unmanaged woodland lacks diversity and can result in poor tree health and increase the spread of tree diseases.

Whilst most of that unmanaged woodland is in private ownership, the future management of our public forest estate also remains uncertain. Attempts in 2010 to sell off the national forest estate were abandoned in the face of a public outcry, but austerity has resulted in many local authority woodland teams being disbanded and the future for the management of the national public forest estate – at least in England – remains unclear.

It is in that gap between the market and the state that we find the commons and, increasingly, a diverse range of community businesses, co-operatives and other forms of social enterprise creating value and livelihoods from its management. So does social and community business have a role in reinvigorating our woods and forests and rebuilding our woodland culture?

In 2012, in the aftermath of the failed forestry sell off and in the wake of the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report, a number of organisations came together to discuss alternative approaches to the management of our woods and forests.

There was already a well established sector of community woodlands and voluntary groups involved in woodland management across the UK. There were also some examples of social enterprises managing significant-sized woodlands, particularly in Scotland where community buyouts meant communities in the Highlands and Islands already had ownership and control over their local woodlands and a focus on sustainable local economic regeneration.

Could these approaches provide new models for managing our woodlands in ways that created livelihoods, improved their quality, and produced useful resources such as woodfuel?

That 2012 meeting led to the establishment of the Woodland Social Enterprise Network and, over time, the development of a proposal for a project to support the development of social enterprise in woodlands. In 2015, funding was secured from Big Lottery to deliver Making Local Woods Work, a pilot programme to provide technical assistance, training and peer networking opportunities for woodland-based social enterprises across the UK.

The programme, which runs until Autumn 2018, is providing support to 50 woodland social enterprises right across the UK, each of which embed woodlands or woodland products into their core activity whether that is the production of woodfuel and timber, or delivering educational or health and well-being activities in a woodland setting. It provides technical advice on woodland management and finance, support in developing business plans, choosing legal structures and strengthening governance, and advice on leases, tenure, and a wide range of other issues. It also provides training, webinars and peer networking opportunities, many of which are available to the wider network of woodlands social enterprises as well as those who are part of the formal support programme.

We can’t rely on corporations to save us from climate change

By Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg - London School of Economics, January 30, 2018

Climate change is now the ever-present reality of human experience. Late last year we witnessed a procession of huge hurricanes batter the US and Caribbean, the largest wildfires on record burn through California, and in Australia, despite the death of up to half of the Great Barrier Reef in back-to-back coral bleaching events, political support for new mega-coal mines and coal-fired power stations. While there is now a clear scientific consensus that the world is on track for global temperature increases of 4 degrees Celsius by century’s end (threatening the very viability of human civilization), our political and economic masters continue to double down on the fossil fuel bet, transforming perhaps the greatest threat to life on this planet into ‘business as usual’.

One response to the failure of government has been a belief that markets and corporate innovation will provide the solution to the climate crisis. As business tycoon Richard Branson has proclaimed ‘our only option to stop climate change is for industry to make money from it.’ Thus while business corporations are major contributors to escalating GHG emissions, they are also often presented as offering innovative ways to decarbonise our economies. But how much faith can we place in corporations to save us from climate change?

In a recently published paper, we explore how major business corporations translate the grand challenge of climate change into strategies, policies and practices over an extended period of time. Our research involved a detailed cross-case analysis of five major corporations operating in Australia over ten years, from 2005 to 2015. During this period, climate change became a central issue in political and economic debate, leading to a range of regulatory, market, and physical risks and opportunities, and each of these five companies were leaders in publicly promoting their engagement with this issue.

Indonesian Uber Drivers Fight Back with Anarcho-Syndicalism

By staff - Black Rose Anarchist Federation, January 30, 2018

As the “uberization” of the US economy continues, along with it is an ever precarious workforce struggling to make ends meet in the dog-eat-dog world of the so-called “sharing economy.” This trend is the same around the world, with Uber claiming to have more than two million drivers in over 80 counties across the globe now.

In Indonesia these conditions are little different. But radical unionists are hoping to change this and are organizing to take back their dignity, better pay and conditions and for great control over their work and lives. Kommunitas Uber Mainstream, abbreviated KUMAN which means ‘bacteria,’was formed by three Uber motorcycle drivers in the Spring of 2017. They have since crafted a list of 14 demands, led four one-day strikes and have grown to a membership of 6,000 drivers. All but two are male in the male dominated field of drivers. KUMAN is structured horizontally with regional sections meeting regularly in parks or other available spaces to discuss strategy and in turn chose delegates to larger general meetings. The union has no dues and supports itself largely by sale of stickers and t-shirts. Drivers can become members by proving they are an active driver and answering three basic questions: 1. What’s your perspective on this group?, 2. Are you a freedom fighter or a loser? and 3. What do you know about what working with Uber is like? KUMAN works together with Persaudaraan Pekerja Anarko-Sindikalis (PPAS), the two-year old anarcho-syndicalist initiative in Indonesia and an affiliate of the International Workers Association (IWA). The majority of the union has decided to adopt the ideas and strategies of anarcho-syndicalism for their struggle, although other political tendencies exist within the union.

KUMAN is continuing to escalate the fight for justice at Uber, with more strikes and actions planned. We hope that this interview will help inspire solidarity with their cause, so that workers around the world will answer KUMAN’s next call for action and join in putting pressure on Uber. We particularly hope that other rideshare and sharing economy workers will learn from the experiences we share here and connect with KUMAN drivers to build international networks of struggle and organization.

We were excited to be able to talk with Enrique, an Uber driver from Jakarta, Indonesia who was one of the initial three founders of KUMAN. We were also joined by Ricardo, originally from Surabaya, Indonesia but now living in Melbourne, Australia. He works in retail grocery and is active with the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation – IWA. The interview was conducted by Jesus, a Los Angeles based healthcare worker with Black Rose/Rosa Negra. The three sat down together in a cramped Hong Kong hostel room to talk about the situation of Uber drivers in Indonesia now and how anarchist ideas are being applied to build workers power among drivers in Indonesia.

Please note that for purposes of translation, clarity, and length this interview has been heavy edited.

Crimethinc Podcast #61: The Olympia Train Blockade

“There’s No Trick”

By Jamie McCallum - Jacobin, January 22, 2018

“We are worried, but we are ready to fight,” says Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). “We are more ready than ever, actually.”

With 110,000 members, the MTA is the largest union in the state, a status that could soon change once the Supreme Court hands down its anticipated ruling against unions in Janus v. AFSCME [the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees]. That decision would allow public-sector workers — some of whom are currently mandated to pay “fair share” fees if they opt out of full-fledged union membership — to receive union representation and benefits without paying anything. This would expand right-to-work conditions to the entire public sector in the United States, a crisis even for a movement that is accustomed to crises. Say the word “Janus” to union organizers and they say things like “devastating,” “catastrophic,” “cataclysmic,” and “fucked.” And “organize.”

Two years ago, unions escaped with a victory in a similar case, Friederichs v. California Teachers Association, only because the timely death of Justice Antonin Scalia resulted in a 4-4 decision. But no one is counting on a favorable court ruling this time around; hence, a call to arms.

Update on #OperationPUSH in Florida Prisons

By IWOC - It's Going Down, January 19, 2018

Photo from @IWW_IWOC, features banner that was put up at solidarity demonstration at facility where two ex-prison Florida guards who were found guilty of belonging to the Ku-Klux-Klan, and were plotting to kill a black inmate after his release. 

It’s been a hard silence for the past 5 days since Operation PUSH launched a statewide prisoner strike in the FL Department of Corrections prison system (FDOC or FDC) coinciding with Martin Luther King Day.

Information from prisoners is coming in at a much slower pace than people on the outside had anticipated, but reports are slowly and steadily making their way through the walls, despite many obstacles.

Thus far, we’ve heard from prisoners that there has been active participation or repression of some sort in the following prisons: Santa Rosa, Jackson, Gulf, Hamilton, Avon Park, Franklin, Holmes, Everglades, Reception and Medical Center at Lake Butler, Liberty, Lowell, Columbia, Florida State Prison, Suwannee, Calhoun, and Martin. (The list is growing by the day.)

Strike Repression

A common theme among report backs is the attempt by the DOC to sever communication in order to create the perception of inactivity and break the spirits of those participating in the strike. Key contacts inside have reported being threatened by administration with harsher retaliation if correspondence with advocacy groups such as Fight Toxic Prisons and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee continues.

According to prisoner reports, some facilities have shut off state phone service as of Tuesday, January 16. A Security Threat Group (STG) investigator employed at a prison in the panhandle confirmed that multiple prisons across the state were placed on lockdown in preparation for the strike. Shakedowns have occurred where independent means of communication were confiscated and their alleged owners/users were thrown in solitary confinement.

We’ve heard reports that widespread investigations are occurring for anyone who has received or sent mail to organizations offering support on the outside and certain individuals are being labelled a “security threat” for doing so which can result in heightened custody levels, which means a loss of privileges, and continued harassment by the STG unit. One prisoner was told, “As long as you communicate with these people you’re always going to be labelled a security threat and you’re always going to be put under investigation.”

Given the past two years of prisoner organizing in Florida, it’s understandable that there is an expectation to hear of something distinct on the inside marking the start of the strike.

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