SEIU and others are embracing the movement that has succeeded as they have faded
Unions are in a death spiral. Private sector unionism has all but vanished, accounting for a measly 6.9 percent of the workforce. Public sector workers are being hammered by government cutbacks and hostile media that blame teachers, nurses and firefighters for budget crises. To counter this trend organized labor banked on creating more hospitable organizing conditions by contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the Democratic Party the last two election cycles. In return Obama abandoned the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made union campaigns marginally easier, failed to push for an increase in the minimum wage, and installed an education secretary who attacks teachers and public education.
The Obama administration’s dismal record on labor issues has been compounded by the rise of the Tea Party movement, which portrays unions as public enemy No. 1, and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the political floodgates to corporate money. By last year, organized labor realized that its days were numbered unless it took a different approach.
So it went back to basics. Across the country unions threw resources into community organizing, aiming to build a broad-based constituency outside of the workplace for progressive politics. In cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Portland, Ore., newly formed community groups found ready support for organizing around issues of economic justice, but they were stymied by a national debate dominated by voices blaming government spending for an economic crisis caused by Wall Street.
Occupy Wall Street changed that. It flipped the debate from austerity to inequality, uncorked a wellspring of creative energy and started taking creative risks that unions typically shun. Within weeks unions adopted the 99 percent versus the 1 percent and started organizing actions under the Occupy banner. One labor leader said “the Occupy movement has changed unions’” messaging and ability to mobilize members. Union-affiliated organizers around the country say it has helped workers win better contracts and bolstered labor reformers.
Arun Gupta and Michelle Fawcett’s description of their visits to nearly thirty occupations in twenty states in two months is in the latest issue of The Progressive. Please buy the latest issue to read the story.
Kauai, the “Garden Island.” (Photo: yark64)
Sunday 29 January 2012
by: Michelle Fawcett, Truthout | News Analysis
Ever since the Garden of Eden headlined the Torah, savvy marketers have realized that we all deeply desire a slice of paradise. Utopia is woven into America’s national fabric starting with the Puritan ideal of a “city upon a hill” and progressing through the centuries to Shakers, Mormons, Manifest Destiny, socialists and suburbia. These days, paradise is all around us from potato chips seasoned with “harmonic convergence” to bath soaps that “take me away” to Steve Jobs’ “quest for perfection.”
Utopia has always been half the equation, however, the balance being the extermination of indigenous people, who already inhabited the land, and denial of entry for all manner of people from blacks and women to immigrants and the poor.
This dichotomy is evident in Hawaii where competing visions of paradise blend with dystopian realities. Now, Hawaii would soften even a cynic’s heart. I’ve been visiting Kauai, the “Garden Island,” for 20 years and remain intoxicated by the undulating emerald mountains of the Na Pali Coast, the warm, aquamarine waters of Hanalei Bay and the “Aloha spirit” of its people.
The natural splendor of Hawaii draws about seven million tourists a year as well as thousands of transplants, many wealthy, who relocate to the Pacific island chain for the relentlessly balmy weather. At the same time, the tropical Shangri-La barely conceals teeming tent cities, droves of poverty-wage workers and the legacy of the conquest of native Hawaiians.
Image by Michael Kappel via Flickr
By Arun Gupta
With the forcible closure of major occupations across the country through a combination of police repression and official disinformation, the movement is at a crossroads.
In Wyoming and Idaho, the movement confronts a conservative reality
BY ARUN GUPTA
Occupy protesters on the Capitol steps in Boise, Idaho. (Credit: AP/Jessie L. Bonner)
TOPICS: OCCUPY WALL STREET, OCCUPY BOISE, OCCUPY MOVEMENT
BOISE, Idaho — One talked, the other snickered. The talker wore a red Harley-Davidson jacket and a salt-and-pepper poof of hair and drooping mustache. ” While the snickerer watched, the talker harangued Jon Howard, a “marginally employed” stagehand, about whether the Boise occupation was legal, and Jon said it was. The talker wanted to know whether they were paying for the electricity they were using on the grounds of the old Ada County Courthouse, and Jon said they were. A moment earlier I had sensed the tension and bounded over, looking for a reason to escape the wild-eyed “home-church” Christian pastor I had made the mistake of engaging.
It didn’t take long for the talker to get a look at me and launch into an “all you left-wing supporters of Obama” monologue. I mentioned I was an out-of-town observer and asked if he was with the Tea Party.
“I’m a conservative. And an American,” he said.
Michelle Fawcett and Arun Gupta describe some of the insights and experiences travelling across the country to visit occupation sites with Mary-Charlotte Domandi of Santa Fe Radio Cafe.
Excerpts from a talk by Arun Gupta in Marfa, Texas where he discusses the Occupy Movement, his experiences meeting occupiers during his and Michelle Fawcett’s travels, the Democratic party, and the potential of the movement. Video produced by Michelle Fawcett.
The prize-winning author of The God of Small Things talks about why she is drawn to the Occupy movement and the need to reclaim language and meaning.
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 November 2011
Sitting in a car parked at a gas station on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, my colleague Michelle holds an audio recorder to my cellphone. At the other end of the line is Arundhati Roy, author of the Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things, who is some 2,000 miles away, driving to Boston.
“This is uniquely American,” I remark to Roy about interviewing her while both in cars but thousands of miles apart. Having driven some 7,000 miles and visited 23 cities (and counting) in reporting on the Occupy movement, it’s become apparent that the US is essentially an oil-based economy in which we shuttle goods we no longer make around a continental land mass, creating poverty-level dead-end jobs in the service sector.
This is the secret behind the Occupy Wall Street movement that Roy visited before the police crackdowns started. Sure, ending pervasive corporate control of the political system is on the lips of almost every occupier we meet. But this is nothing new. What’s different is most Americans now live in poverty, on the edge, or fear a descent into the abyss. It’s why a majority (at least of those who have an opinion) still support Occupy Wall Street even after weeks of disinformation and repression.
In this exclusive interview for the Guardian, Roy offers her thoughts on Occupy Wall Street, the role of the imagination, reclaiming language, and what is next for a movement that has reshaped America’s political discourse and seized the world’s attention.
Occupation activists speak about what their vision for the economy and the movement is in Michelle Fawcett’s video.