Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Long time...

Hello all who are visiting. I have had other internet projects that I have been working on for the GEO to amend our constitution and dues structure. I hope to be back more now.

But, since there is nothing cool here, I would recommend Biddy's post about Prop 2. All I can say is well put!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Another Labor Notes Article

Also in Labor Notes this month is an article by Tiffany Ten Eyck about the affiliation of Worker's Centers with National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).

This affiliation brings up an interesting point that refers to something that I have been thinking about since Dave posted this entry. In his question, "Can a strike be won, if the work is done?" he brings up an interesting point which is how workers must we rely on outside agitators and not solely on the militancy of an organized workforce.

What I have been thinking is the extent to which it may be possible to couple community organizing with labor organizing to develop a really powerful and relatively permanent coalition of organized people working on their own behalf. Taking on workplace issues when many service-sector workers also face issues regarging healthcare, tenant's rights violations, child care and schooling issues doesn't necessarily speak to all of the situation of workers in their daily lives.

Then, the less preferable option Dave mentions -- relying on outside agitators to win labor campaigns -- can really become the more preferable option: workers can be militantly organized around all issues that affect them in their lives. Then, one does not have to rely on "outside" agitators because those agitators become the families, friends and neighbors of the workers. It seems, then, like developing the link between worker's centers and traditional labor organizing is a way to strengthen both the labor movement and the progressive movement in this country.

I am interested in what others think...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Andy Stern's too Busy Talking to Newt Gingrich... actually listen to his own members. A coalition of SEIU locals in California started a campaign called "No Worker is Illegal" to confront the SEIU's position on immigration (see this article for a review of Andy Stern's book and his travels with Newt).

This is from an article at counterpunch by Labor Notes co-editor William Johnson (also, a more readable format at MRZine) about the response these members received:

Luckily, SEIU International President Andy Stern was in the San Francisco area promoting his new book, A Country That Works. Saucedo and a few allies attended one of Stern's readings and persuaded him to meet with them.

Saucedo remembers, "We explained to him that this was not just San Francisco, that [opposition to McCain-Kennedy] was a widespread sentiment. He gave us different responses, ranging from "Kennedy-McCain was the only viable bill" to "the SEIU membership is still pretty conservative on this issue."

"We told him that as a union, we should never be supporting anything that hurts workers -- like guest worker, employer sanctions."

According to Saucedo, Stern next sent out SEIU's head immigration policy person, Cuc Vu, to meet with the "No Worker is Illegal" folks. Says Saucedo, "We had a five hour meeting with her. She came with the Washington, D.C. lobbying perspective . . . made a lot of the same arguments as Stern."

SEIU's international office did not respond to multiple calls for comment.

Saucedo doesn't find Stern and Vu's arguments convincing. She notes that SEIU took a strong position against the war in Iraq even though there are certainly "sections of the union that were for the war. We want the same thing on immigration."

More than a fear of backlash, Local 790 member Brian Cruz thinks the primary reason the SEIU international is supporting guest worker is that "SEIU sees building partnerships with employers as the way to build the union.

"It's the way Andy Stern spells it out in his book. He calls it 'Team U.S.A., workers and corporations working hand in hand against competitors around the world.'"

Cruz notes that as recently as 1999, "SEIU was a big part of the push to support amnesty for all immigrant workers. When guest worker started coming out, [SEIU Vice President] Eliseo Medina came out against it.

"Now," Cruz continues, "Medina's calling guest worker 'a step in the right direction.'" Cruz believes that beneath the partnership strategy, "There's a lot of skepticism about the immigrant movement. The feeling is, they don't believe we can build a strong movement, so we'd better take the best the politicians have to offer."

Not much more needs to be said (although my guess is that Uncle has plenty to say...).

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

I found this L.A. Times article (via this Mother Jones blog) about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's charitable work being negated by the Foundation's investment in companies that undermine their goal of eradicating disease in Africa.

It is interesting how the article points out the importance of intellectual property laws to Microsoft and the Gates Foundation's unwillingness to compromise those laws and advocate for access to generic medicines which could be the single most cost-effective way to aid in the AIDS epidemic. While I believe that the work of the Gates Foundation is, overall, admirable, it is deeply troubling that the poor suffer, essentially, at their own expense.

I also find the reporting in the L.A. Times refreshingly honest about the hypocrisy that undermines the very success of these projects while the Gates Foundation benefits from all of the great media coverage afforded to it. It may be worth targeting Bill Gates, in USAS-style to get the Gates Foundation to uphold some sort of ethical investment provisions...

[BTW, I found the derivation of the term "Robbing Peter to Pay Paul" - it is more interesting than I thought...]

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Changing the world...

Over the break, I had the opportunity to do something that I hardly ever do: I read a book that was not related to my academic studies! And, I was very lucky that it was one of the best books that I have ever read. The book is called Moutains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It is about the pursuit of Paul Farmer, an M.D./Ph.D. medical anthropoligist/infectious disease specialist who started the organization, Partners in Health as a community-based health organization to give a "preferential option to the poor." This book, written by the journalist Tracy Kidder, is absolutely amazing - both in the way it was written and in the story of Dr. Farmer and what he and his colleagues have been able to accomplish.

Quite possibly the most amazing piece of this book is the demonstration that a few people, who are absolutely dedicated to a goal can accomplish that goal no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem. And, the way to accomplish that goal is to never give up the seemingly impossible ideal behind the goal while looking at the very concrete steps for building a plan to accomplish it.

Farmer's first public health accomplishment was the development on the central plain of Haiti a community health infrastructure, named Zanmi Lasante (Creole for "Partners in Health") that was able to bring real medical treatment to the extremely poor country of Haiti. In order to affect change, he realized that it needed to connect with the everday lived experience of the Haitians. Therefore, his community health program established a whole network of community health providers that are in communities, know the people who they are treating and bring back information about the conditions of those who are sick. Accordingly, Farmer advocated that the sick in Haiti be provided with a modest stipend in order to pay for living expenses while participating in treatment. After being criticized for this decision, Farmer points out that infectious diseases tend to spread because of incomplete treatments; however, if a patient cannot provide for his or her family while on treatment, then it is impossible to ask that person to give up work to take the time to complete treatment. In other words, the treatment is always grounded in the lived experience of the infirm and the poor.

What is extraordinary about Farmer is that he also recognizes that the financial resources for the solutions are grounded in the lived experience of the healthy and the wealthy. While being very critical of wealthy nations and wealthy people (a brief look at Farmer's CV will show that his articles have been less than flattering of leaders of "developed" nations), he also finds a way to connect to their lived experience.

Among the amazing things accomplished by Partners in Health is the treatment of Multidrug Resistant (MDR) tuberculosis beginning in Peru and expanding worldwide. Farmer, and his colleague, Dr. Jim Kim, were able to accomplish this by recognizing the need to become partners with members of the World Health Organization and to respect the worldview of the members while insisting they were wrong. In the same way that Farmer developed a community of members in Haiti (and, subsequently--with help from colleages--in Rwanda, Peru, Russia, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, and Lesotho) by actively listening and responding to the specific concerns of their patients, they developed a community of WHO professionals by not scoffing at their concerns but by directly confronting them. Rather than shout, "YOU ARE WRONG" and refusing to work with the WHO members because of differences in principles, he engaged the vocal concerns surrounding the costs and "efficiency" of treating MDR-TB in poor populations. In other words, he organized the privileged and the wealthy.

While it is often times not as fun, and much more frustrating, it is also a necessary component of the work that many activists are commited to. Instead of turning our noses and finding people morally reprehensible for not understanding the importance of a struggle, we must engage them if they will let us. As difficult as it is, it is one of the only things that will permit us to succeed. This doesn't mean making a deal with the devil, but it does mean trying to empathize with where the privileged are at now and move them to where we want them to be in the future. Indeed, in a later article, published in Notre Dame Magazine (the whole article is well worth the read as well), Farmer spells out this necessity:

The view of many of my academic colleagues seems to be that good scholarship and activism don't mix. The view of many of my human-rights colleagues seems to be that social and economic rights -- those violated by poverty and disease -- are "pie in the sky." They say they're having a hard enough time getting civil and political rights respected. And the view of many in both sectors seemed to be that the victims themselves should be "empowered" to start their own social movements. Yet those gathered in central Haiti had already started their own social movement. The "missing movement" needs to take place among the privileged, and on the grounds of empathy and solidarity.

I am sure that I will have much more to write on the topic in the future, but the short story is: read this book.