Saturday, February 25, 2012

Creative organizing at Walmart, and another Southern pol brays about unions

Here's another short round-up from across the South, including a creative new approach to helping Walmart workers and the latest politician's braying in Magnolia Land

A new tactic with Walmart is working

A new strategy to push workers’ rights at the world’s largest retailer, Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart, is utilizing what has been called “pre-New Deal unionism” and showing some real gains.

OUR Walmart and Warehouse Workers United (WWU), two initiatives backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), have organized public protests, informal meetings of workers, door-to-door membership recruiting campaigns, class-action suits against Walmart subcontractors, and strengthened contacts with workers along the retailer’s international supply chain.

According to writer Spencer Woodman in a compelling article in The Nation magazine’s January 23 edition, “thousands of employees in hundreds of Walmarts in more than thirty states” have joined OUR Walmart, a non-union, union-backed activist group seeking better wages and working conditions. WWU has also made inroads into the 100,000-plus warehouse workers at Walmart and its suppliers in getting them to stand up for their rights, whether as full time or “temp” workers.

Many of the groups’ biggest successes have been in California. However, a show of unity took place in Walmart’s own Bentonville headquarters last October. Walmart workers overcame their fears of retaliation to demand respect and better pay. They weren’t able to meet with Walmart CEO Mike Duke, like they wanted, but they made their voices heard.

“These worker associations bargain outside pre-established frameworks of negotiation, using any means legal to pressure management into recognizing their interests,” Woodman writes. It’s “an arrangement that closely resembles pre-New Deal unionism. With little institutional arbitration, this model can be seen as a rawer, more organic form of workplace struggle.”

The long, frustrating battle to organize union-hostile Walmart is well-known. However, the UFCW and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have been pursuing different avenues for several years, particularly in establishing web sites to tell the truth about Walmart to the world. The UFCW’s Wake Up Walmart, which is now called Making Change at Walmart, and SEIU’s Walmart Watch helped force the company to try to clean up its image, taking on environmentally sensitive “green” projects and even endorsing President Obama’s healthcare plan.

Yet, as Woodman writes, Walmart’s new, spruced-up self emphatically did NOT include any changes in attitudes toward unions.

So the fight goes on. If true change does eventually come to the Bentonville company, the whole world will feel its effects.

And the anti-union braying in the South continues …

As reported in Facing South recently by Phil Mattera of Dirt Diggers Digest, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has been braying the usual anti-union diatribes we expect from Southern pols wedded to their corporate backers.

“We’ll make sure the unions understand full well that they are not needed, not wanted, and not welcome in the state of South Carolina,” Haley said recently in her State of the State address. “We love that we are one of the least unionized states in the country.”

Let’s hope workers in South Carolina will someday realize what she is actually saying—that they shouldn’t have the opportunity or perhaps even the right to join together and speak as one voice in trying to better their lot. When and if they do, Nikki Haley will be retired to that donkey (no party affiliation intended) farm where she belongs, where she can bray all day long to all the chickens and the pigs on the farm. My bet is even they’ll walk away with a shake of their heads and a plan for a much better way to spend their day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Charter schools & private prisons: Privatizing America for their majesty, Kings Charles and David Koch

OXFORD, Miss. – I’m having this nightmare, a kind of weird, modern-day version of the movie I Walked With A Zombie.

Armies of well-dressed, fresh-faced Republican legislators, many of them newly elected, march dutifully off to some remote island, where twin voodoo kings put them all under a dark spell. As they prepare to leave, their eyes bulging with voodoo magic, they swear to do the kings’ bidding throughout the unsuspecting world.

As I open my eyes, I realize to my horror that it’s true! It’s not a nightmare. It’s really happening!

The legislators are ALEC members, the twin kings are Charles and David Koch, and the spell was cast on Amelia Island off the coast of Florida, where the kings gave the order to push charter schools, vouchers, the ultimate privatization of schools, prisons, and anything else standing in the way of the almighty Corporation.

Like all zombie worlds, this one is full of secrecy and mystery. What I can tell you is that ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, gets 98 percent of its funding from top corporations like British Petroleum, State Farm Insurance, Walmart, and, of course, Koch Industries, one of the nation’s largest private companies with vast holdings that include a relatively close chlorine-dioxide facility in New Augusta, Miss.

ALEC develops “model” legislation for the mostly Republican legislators who are wined and dined at its indoctrination camps, the most recent of which was a “K-12 Education Reform Academy” at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island Feb. 3-4. The press, teachers and students were excluded from the highly secret meeting. However, the agenda at all ALEC meetings is clear.

Like the billionaire Koch brothers who’ve been its most prominent benefactors, ALEC wants taxpayer dollars (yes, they like taxpayer dollars) steered from public schools toward charter schools, school vouchers, and other measures that ultimately lead to privatization. An ideal ALEC school would preach the glories of unregulated capitalism and the evils of government and particularly labor unions.

ALEC’s tentacles reach far. An estimated 43 percent of Ohio legislators are members. Anti-union measures in Ohio and Wisconsin have ALEC’s fingerprints all over them. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who recently signed a “right-to-work” measure into law, wrote the foreword to ALEC’s “Report Card on American Education,” a manifesto that places union-busting over test scores in its school evaluations.

Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, and Oklahoma are among the states that have passed specially crafted ALEC legislation on education issues.

Here in Mississippi, a perfect breeding ground for ALEC/Koch ideology given its tortured history regarding public education, a movement is already well underway to starve the beast of government to make way for a privatized world.

ALEC members in the Mississippi Legislature include the following state representatives: Bill Denny, Mark Formby, Bobby Howell, Sam Mims V, Randall Patterson, Jessica Upshaw and Tom Weathersby. All are Republican except Patterson.

State senators who are ALEC members include: Nancy Adams Collins, Joey Fillingane, Dean Kirby, Will Longwitz, and Melanie Sojourner. All are Republicans.

Schools and prisons are current top priorities for ALEC and the Koch brothers. However, their long-term goals are more encompassing. David Koch once ran for president under the Libertarian ticket, calling for an end to Social Security, the minimum wage, gun control, and the personal and corporate income tax. They despise government regulation as much as they do labor unions. Koch Industries in the 1990s had to pay a $30 million fine because of multiple oil spills.

Is democracy an ultimate target? Voter ID and similar voter suppression bills are indeed part of their agenda. The Koch brothers’ grandfather, Harry Koch, was a 19th century big business-boosting newspaper editor who once called democracy “mobocracy.” At the Koch-funded Cato Institute, one scholar recently wrote in defense of monopolies. Fred Koch, father of the Koch brothers, built refineries for Stalin. The brothers themselves have had a long business relationship with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.

Benito Mussolini, a successful politician until his fellow Italians hung him upside down in a public square in Milan, is widely quoted as having said this once about fascism: “Fascism should rightly be called corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power.” Whether he actually said it is uncertain. What is certain is that he believed it, and the prospect of such a merger is just as scary today as it ever was.

Fascism in a country that fought and won a bloody world war against it 70 years ago? Now that would be a real nightmare.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Koch brothers, ALEC, and the zombie lawmakers who do their bidding

On Feb. 3 and 4, legislators from across the country were expected to answer the call from their leaders—the billionaire Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)--to come to the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island along the Florida coast for their continued indoctrination into the wonders of charter schools and the evils of public education and labor unions.

After the two-day, closed-door, press-excluded (did I mention "secret"?) meeting, those same legislators were expected to return to their home states to do the work of their leaders, sponsoring legislation, crafting speeches, lobbying their colleagues, and spinning their message to their constituents as to how government is evil, regulation is needless and costly, unions are Satan-inspired, public schools-be-damned and teachers’ unions along with them. Here’s the message in a nutshell: We can re-segregate and thus improve our schools, and even re-direct our tax dollars to help make it happen!

What did or did not take place on Amelia Island remains something of a mystery. However, as I write these words, one thing is for sure: millions of corporate dollars are flowing into political coffers to bolster and inspire these lawmakers further in their mission to carry the banner of the Koch brothers’ cause.

Why do I have visions of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times flashing before me, armies of zombie-like citizens of the Kochian world marching in lockstep toward that great beyond where there is no government, only the Corporate Father to watch over us? Maybe I watched I Walked With A Zombie too many times.

Wake me up before this nightmare sucks me down into the void!

I’ll be writing on this at length early next week as I continue my research into ALEC, the Koch brothers, and the zombie lawmakers who do their bidding.

Stay tuned!